Academic journal article Notes

Reconstructing Samuel Barber's Christmas Cantata Christmas Eve: A Trio with Solos, or XIII

Academic journal article Notes

Reconstructing Samuel Barber's Christmas Cantata Christmas Eve: A Trio with Solos, or XIII

Article excerpt


Samuel Barber (1910-1981), the composer of major contributions to the vocal canon such as Dover Beach, Hermit Songs, and Vanessa, developed his compositional style as a composer for the voice from an early age. The composer's maternal grandfather, Dr. William Trimble Beatty, was a Presbyterian minister who later founded Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. (1) His father, Samuel Le Roy Barber, a doctor, was president of First Presbyterian Church, West Chester, Pennsylvania, where his mother, Marguerite, was a Sunday school teacher. (2) Dr. Barber took an especially active role in civic life, and it was during his twenty-five-year tenure as chair of the West Chester School Board that the decision was made for student composers to take Fridays off from classes in order to attend concerts of the Philadelphia Orchestra. (3) In addition to Dr. Barber's interest in music, the household was also filled with songs from their housekeeper, Annie Sullivan Brosius, who sang Irish songs, played dances on the accordion, and provided the libretto for Barber's unfinished opera, The Rose Tree, which he wrote at the age of ten. (4)

Despite the exposure to the music of the church and the habitual singing of Brosius, the greatest familial association with the musical community came from the young composer's aunt, the operatic contralto, Louise Homer (1871-1947), and her husband, the composer Sidney Homer (1864-1953). Louise Homer's career was largely centered at the Metropolitan Opera, not least in creating the role of the witch in Englebert Humperdinck's Konigskinder (1910) and the title role in Horatio Parker's Mona (1912). (5) Because Sidney Homer had mentored Barber in his early years, the Homers' visits to their house had most likely resulted in Barber's first quasiprofessional relationship through Louise Homer's performances of his songs. Barber wrote some of his early songs for his sister, Sara Fulton Barber (1913-1961), with whom he was especially close. Sara, who was both a fine young singer and a writer, also sang the role of the heroine in The Rose Tree. (6) Allied to these performing experiences was Barber's precocious compositional prowess in both vocal and keyboard works. According to Barbara Heyman's recently published thematic catalog, Barber's compositional output in these early years consisted of the pieces listed in fig. 1.

Hcyman no.      Title               Medium       Date

H-I        Sad ness      piano                   1917

H-2         Sometime      low voice/piano        1917

H-3         Melody in F   piano                  1917

H-4         Why Not?      low voice/piano        ca. 1917

H-5         Largo         piano                  1918

H-6         War Song      piano                  1918

H-7         In the Fire   low voice/piano        1918

H-8         Isabel        voice/piano            1919

H-9         At Twilight   piano                  1919

H-10        Lullaby       piano                  1919

H-lla       Thy Will fie  contralto/organ        1924

H-llb       The Wandnrr   contralto/organ        1920

H-12        Nursery       low voice/piano        ca. 1918-22

H-13        The Rose      soprano/contralto/     ca. 1920
            Tree          lenor/bass/chorus/ 2
                          vlns/ cornet/
                          piano vln/piano

H-13arr.    dypsy Dances                         1922
            from The
            Hose Tree

H-14        Prayer        voice/piano            1921

H-15        An Old Song   voice /piano           1921

H-16        Hunting       baritone/cornet/       ca. 1921


H-17        Themes        piano                  1923

H-17an.     Minuet        soprano/ con tral to/  ca. 1923

H-18        Christmas     soprano/2 altos/       ca. … 
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