Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A wonderful, classical birthday, Pt. 2 ...

Not one, but TWO wonderful composers of classical music were born on this day - a century apart, and on opposite sides of the world, yet still sharing a creative spirit that brought new ideas and themes into the concert halls ... where they still resonate to this day.

Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky was born on this day in 1839, while American composer Samuel Barber was born on this day in 1910.

Barber was a dang Yankee from back-east like myself, born in the Pennsylvania town of West Chester, just a couple hours' drive south of my hometown. His interest in music began early - a musical at seven years of age, and an attempt at opera at ten years - and would cover orchestral, opera, choral, and piano works that spanned a long and productive life, which knew both highs (including a pair of Pulitzers) and lows (critical rejection, and clinical depression). Unlike Mussorgsky, Barber would live to see near-unversal acclaim for most of his works - helped in part by a distinguished list of musicians, singers and conductors worldwide who were among his champions.

Certainly his most well-know and easily-recognized work is "Adagio for Strings," a movement from Barber's "String Quartet" that has emerged as a stand-alone classic, a favorite for film scores and television soundtracks ... and the first works that comes to mind for many on occasions for mourning. It was broadcast over the radio following the announcement of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt's death, and played at the funerals of Albert Einstein, and Monaco's Princess Grace (another Pennsylvanian). In 2001, at Englad's celebrated Last Night of the Proms, it was performed to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks ...

Barber died on January 23, 1981. I was working the evening/closing shift at KHFM radio, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when the news came over the AP wire. I went back to our library, pulled a worn cover off the shelf, and placed an oft-played album on the turntable. It was about time for sign-off, I read the AP report, then closed the evening with "Adagio for Strings."

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