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Born into a musical family, Samuel Barber began composing as a boy, even trying an opera at age 10. At 14, he was one of the first students at the new Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Avoiding most modernist trends, he developed a lyrical idiom of refreshed melody and harmony. He won his first Pulitzer Prize for his opera Vanessa, premiered by the Metropolitan Opera in 1958; his second Pulitzer was for his Piano Concerto of 1962.

The Adagio for Strings, arranged from his String Quartet, has become one of the most beloved pieces from the 20th century. The piece began life as the slow movement – marked “Molto adagio” – of Barber’s only string quartet, written in 1936 while its composer was a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Music of austere grandeur, the movement, in the composer’s own arrangement for string orchestra, has become widely associated with solemn occasions, among them the funerals of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, and Princess Grace of Monaco. It reached its widest audiences, however, as the background leitmotif in Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War film, Platoon.

The Quartet basically has only one other movement, a dramatic sonata form mix of a bold, spiky main theme with two more sinuous and lyrical ideas. But he revisits it in a highly condensed version after the Adagio, bringing back the original energy of the piece.

— compiled from LA Phil archives