Darkness vs. Light

Adagio for Strings Samuel Barber (1910 –1981)
Fantasia Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Samuel Barber (1910 –1981) is one of America’s most distinguished composers – he won the Pulitzer Prize in music twice. Very much the child prodigy, Barber was admitted to the Curtis School of Music (almost as famous as Julliard) at 14. He wrote classical music "hit" after hit in his younger years – but not so much in his later ones. Consequently he struggled with depression and alcohol beginning in his 50s, and ultimately died of cancer at 70.

Certainly his most famous piece is his "Adagio for Strings" (1938). Originally composed as the second movement of his string quartet Op. 11 when he was 28, Barber arranged it for string orchestra that same year and sent the score to the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). Toscanini promptly returned the score without comment, and Barber only learned later that Toscanini very much liked the piece, had decided to perform it, and had returned the score only because he had already memorized it.

Toscanini premiered the piece with the NBC Symphony Orchestra over the radio in 1938–a very tumultuous year: America was still recovering from the Depression and Hitler's Germany was pushing the world towards war. Toscanini himself had only recently settled in America after fleeing fascist Italy. Since then, Barber’s Adagio has provided the musical underscoring on radio and television for too many tragic events, ranging from the deaths of Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana, to the victims of 9/11.

Ecclesiastes tells us that "there is a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh."; In Lent we embrace the Darkness, knowing that the Light has its own appointed time — at Easter.