Adagio for Strings

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ada·​gio | \ ə-ˈdä-j(ē-ˌ)ō  , ä-, -zh(ē-ˌ)ō \

Definition of adagio

at a slow tempo —used chiefly as a direction in music

adagio noun plural adagios

a musical composition or movement in adagio tempo2: a ballet duet by a man and woman or a mixed trio displaying difficult feats of balance, lifting, or spinning

Examples of adagio in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb or adjectiveNext comes adagio work, or slower sustained movements and balances, without the aid of a barre.— New York Times, “Dancers Still Need Daily Class. No Barre? Just Grab a Chair.,” 25 Mar. 2020

But in the sublime, time-stopping Poco adagio, the gentle purr of the organ beneath the orchestra sounds one-dimensional.— Barbara Jepson, WSJ, “Uncertain Tempo,” 31 Dec. 2018


Thanks for that, Merriam-Webster Online

Regarding the musical piece itself, from wiki:

Adagio for Strings is a work by Samuel Barber, arguably his best known, arranged for string orchestra from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11.

Barber finished the arrangement in 1936, the same year that he wrote the quartet. It was performed for the first time on November 5, 1938, by Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a radio broadcast from NBC Studio 8H. Toscanini also played the piece on his South American tour with the NBC Symphony in 1940.

Its reception was generally positive, with Alexander J. Morin writing that Adagio for Strings is “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye”. The music is the setting for Barber’s 1967 choral arrangement of Agnus DeiAdagio for Strings has been featured in many TV shows and movies.

This is among my favorite pieces of music and from one of my favorite composers – Samuel Barber. It is beautiful and tragic in a way that is difficult to explain.

Samuel Osmond Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composerpianistconductorbaritone, and music educator. One of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century; music critic Donal Henahan stated, “Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim.” Principally influenced by nine years of composition studies with Rosario Scalero at the Curtis Institute and more than twenty-five years of study with his uncle, the composer Sidney Homer, Barber’s music usually eschewed the experimental trends of musical modernism in favor of utilizing traditional 19th-century harmonic language and formal structure that embraced lyricism and emotional expression. However, elements of modernism were adopted by Barber after 1940 in a limited number of his compositions, such as an increased use of dissonance and chromaticism in the Cello Concerto (1945) and Medea’s Dance of Vengeance (1955), and the use of tonal ambiguity and a narrow use of serialism in his Piano Sonata (1949), Prayers of Kierkegaard (1954), and Nocturne (1959).

Adept at writing both instrumental and vocal music, Barber’s works became successful on the international stage and many of his compositions enjoyed rapid adoption into the classical performance canon. In particular, his Adagio for Strings (1936) has earned a permanent place in the concert repertory of orchestras, as has that work’s adaptation for chorus, Agnus Dei (1967). He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music twice: for his opera Vanessa (1956–57) and for the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1962). Also widely performed is his Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (1947), a setting for soprano and orchestra of a prose text by James Agee. At the time of Barber’s death, nearly all of his compositions had been recorded. Many of his compositions were commissioned or first performed by such noted organizations and artists as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan OperaVladimir HorowitzEleanor SteberRaya GarbousovaJohn BrowningLeontyne PricePierre BernacFrancis Poulenc, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

While Barber composed a significant body of purely instrumental music, two-thirds of his compositional output was dedicated to writing art songs for voice and piano, choral music, and songs for voice and orchestra. Some of his most frequently performed songs include both the solo voice and choral versions of Sure on this shining night (solo version from 1938 and choral version from 1961) with text by Agee and the song cycle Hermit Songs (1953) with anonymous texts by Irish monks from eighth through the thirteenth centuries. This emphasis on sung material was rooted in his own brief career as a professional baritone in his 20s which inspired a life long love of composing vocal music. Barber recorded his own setting of Arnold‘s “Dover Beach accompanying his own singing voice on the piano in 1935 for NBC, and was also featured weekly on NBC Radio in 1935-1936 in performance of German lieder and art songs. He also occasionally served as conductor for performances and recordings of his works with symphony orchestras during the 1950s and had a brief career teaching composition at the Curtis Institute from 1939-1942.

Barber was in a long term romantic relationship with composer Gian Carlo Menotti for more than 40 years. The two men lived at ‘Capricorn’, a house just north of New York City, where they frequently hosted parties with academic and music luminaries. Menotti served as Barber’s librettist for two of his three operas. After the relationship ended in 1970, the two men remained close friends until Barber’s death from cancer in 1981.

Adagio for Strings begins softly with a B♭ played by the first violins.

The lower strings come in two beats after the violins, which, as Johanna Keller from The New York Times put it, creates “an uneasy, shifting suspension as the melody begins a stepwise motion, like the hesitant climbing of stairs”. NPR Music said that “with a tense melodic line and taut harmonies, the composition is considered by many to be the most popular of all 20th-century orchestral works.” Thomas Larson remarked that the piece “evokes a deep sadness in those who hear it”. Many recordings of the piece have a duration of about eight minutes. The work is largely in the key of B♭ minor.

The Adagio is an example of arch form and builds on a melody that first ascends and then descends in stepwise fashion. Barber subtly manipulates the basic pulse throughout the work by constantly changing time signatures. After four climactic chords and a long pause, the piece presents the opening theme again and fades away on an unresolved dominant chord.

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