BARBER Samuel, Summer Music

In 1953, Samuel Barber was commissioned to write a new work for the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, the fee to be paid for not in the usual way but by contributions from the Detroit Symphony audience. Originally, he was asked for a septet (three wind, three strings and piano) but settled on the scoring for wind quintet after hearing performances and attending numerous rehearsals by the New York Wind Quintet who offered a great deal of technical advice about writing for this instrumental combination. In spite of this close collaboration, the first performance had been promised to Detroit and was given there by Detroit Symphony principals on 26 March 1956 when it was enthusiastically received, one local critic noting that the audience was delighted by ‘its mood of pastoral serenity.’ Following the premiere, Barber again worked with the New York Wind Quintet, making some cuts and putting Summer Music into its final shape. After performances in Boston and on a tour of South America, the New York ensemble played it at Carnegie Hall on 16 November 1956. Since then, the work has become established as cornerstone of the twentieth-century wind quintet repertoire. Cast in a single movement, the mood is mostly quiet and rhapsodic, and as for the title, Barber wrote that ‘it’s supposed to be evocative of summer – summer meaning languid, not killing mosquitoes.’ 

 

© Nigel Simeone 

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