Mar 31, 2022
Barber’s Adagio seems to access a deep well of sadness, heartache, passion, and nostalgia in the listener that is very difficult to explain. As dozens of commentators have noted, there is nothing in particular in the piece which is particularly remarkable. There are no great harmonic innovations, no formal surprises, nothing NEW, at all. In fact, the music was completely anachronistic for its time. Despite all of that, or perhaps because of it, Barber’s Adagio has become perhaps the most well known piece of American classical music in the world. It became even more famous after its use in the Vietnam War Movie Platoon. It was played at the funeral of Franklin Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, and was performed to an empty hall after the assassination of John F Kennedy. A deeply emotional performance of the piece was done at the Last Night of the Proms, a traditionally celebratory affair, on September 12th, 2001. Simply put, this piece has come to symbolize SADNESS in music. But would it surprise you to hear that the Barber Adagio for Strings wasn’t originally for string orchestra at all? That it was the second movement of a string quartet, sandwiched by movements that were much more modernist and “forward-thinking” than its slow movement? Would it surprise you that sadness might never have been the intention of Barber in the piece? Well, let’s take a closer look at Barber’s Adagio this week - how the piece works, what originally surrounded it, it’s different arrangements, and its tempo. Join us!