Saturday is Arts & Music Day at the River Houses. Since yesterday (9 March) was the birthday of American composer Samuel Barber (1910–1981), why not spend a few homeschool minutes this week introducing your students to one of the most beautiful pieces of modern Classical music, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, written in 1936 when Barber was only 26 years old.
Barber’s Adagio is often described as sorrowful or as cathartic—producing a release of emotions. Here’s a beautiful nine-minute performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. Listen with your students in a quiet place without distractions. Turn the volume up, and open it to full screen so you can see the individual musicians in the orchestra as they play each section:
Barber’s Adagio is often played at public memorial services around the world. One notable performance, also conducted by Slatkin, took place at the BBC Proms on 15 September 2001, just after the terrorist attacks on the United States. The Proms, ordinarily a boisterous British music festival, was given over on that occasion to commemoration and remembrance.
More than thirty years after he completed the Adagio for Strings, Barber revisited the work and produced a new arrangement entirely for voice, using the text from the Latin Mass known as the Agnus Dei: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.” (“Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”)
Here is a magnificent and beautifully filmed performance of Barber’s Agnus Dei by the Belgian Vlaams Radio Koor under the direction of Marcus Creed. The version above was all strings and no voices; this arrangement is all voices and no strings. As before, listen with your students in a quiet place, and open to full screen so they can see the individual singers as their parts move back and forth through the performance:
Devote a few minutes to Samuel Barber in your homeschool during this his birthday week, and invite your students to learn more about this important American Classical composer.
What artistic discoveries have you made in your homeschool lately? Tell us in the comments! 😊