Barber: Overture to The School for Scandal

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Samuel Barber
B. March 9, 1910, West Chester, Pennsylvania
D. Jan. 23, 1981, New York City, New York

Composed by a 21-year-old Samuel Barber as a graduation thesis from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Overture to The School for Scandal was the young composer’s first major public work.

Barber’s successful academic career included a triple major in piano, composition and voice, and earned him the Bearns Prize for his Violin Sonata (1928). This prize money enabled him to travel to Europe in 1931 where he continued composition studies with Curtis professor Rosario Scalero and wrote this piece.

Based on a 1777 dramatic comedy by Englishman Richard Sheridan about the upper classes’ predilection for scandal, the Overture attempts to capture the play’s themes and characters and bring them to life through music. The School for Scandal features characters with names descriptive of their personalities, such as Lady Sneerwell and Mr. Snake.

Barber’s musical adaptation uses the ranging tonality of the instruments in the orchestra to suggest different characters and emotions. Arranged in sonata form, the Overture opens with an arresting summons from the winds as a prelude to the main theme, a wide ranging melody begun by the violins, which unfolds and gains momentum. The solo oboe introduces a romantic second subject over harmonies in the strings, after which the clarinet closes the exposition. A brief development recalls the introduction and main theme before a climax of rushing scales. A recapitulation follows, but with the English horn taking on the earlier role of the oboe. The piece finishes with a dancing coda conveying joie de vivre appropriate to an entertaining comedy of manners.

The DSO last performed Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal in September 2005.

DSO Shop @ the Max Recommends:
Barber, Overture to The School for Scandal: Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, EM I 86561.

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