Overture to The School for Scandal, op. 5

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           If any composer may truly be considered our national composer, Samuel Barber should surely be in the running. Notwithstanding the adulation of Aaron Copland’s populist music from the 1930s and 40s, most of the latter composer’s compositions in other musical styles are not well received by the American public--too dissonant and modern!  On the other hand, no major American composer of the twentieth century was a more ardent and eloquent champion of a lyrical, accessible, yet modern idiom than Samuel Barber.  His musical style is founded in the romantic traditions of the nineteenth century, whose harmonic language and formal structures were his point of departure.  Unlike so many of his peers, he was not powerfully swayed by the modernism emanating from Europe after World War I, but pursued his own path.   

            Consistently lyrical throughout his career, it is telling that his songs constitute about two-thirds of his compositions in number.   His vocal works include two major operas, Vanessa (1956), and Antony and Cleopatra (1966), the latter composed for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center.  He composed at least one work for almost every musical genre, and unlike most composers, he was a recognized and published composer from his student days

            Composed in 1931 when he was twenty-one and still a student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, his Overture to The School for Scandal was an instant success, was forthwith published, and remains in the standard repertoire.  Barber wrote it for a stage production of the famous eighteenth-century comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.   It was given its première by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1933.  The play itself is a bitingly satirical essay of intrigue, greed, and wit that has almost no peers in the English theatre.  Still holding a central place in the theatrical canon, its scintillating, rapid pace of clever dialogue and general buoyancy practically leaves the audience breathless.  And all of that wit and spirited repartee is brilliantly captured by Barber in this sizzling concert overture.

--Wm. E. Runyan

©2023 William E. Runyan