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Samuel Barber Centennial

This year we mark the 100-year anniversary of the birth of American composer Samuel Barber - a West Chester, Pennsylvania native and Curtis graduate.

Barber's name is synonymous with his famous Adagio for Strings - the weeping, chilling, and soaring piece first performed in 1938 by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, and considered one of the most popular of all 20th-century orchestral works. In fact, there are few works in the classical repertoire that can compete with the glamorous role this piece has played in history and in films.

Barber's beloved Adagio for Strings served as a last musical farewell at various presidential and royal funerals, and was part of the haunting soundtracks of films such as Platoon and The Elephant Man.

Some people say that "it tears your heart out." The piece is composed in a monothematic arch form, where the melody is built up by fragments of scales, slowly crawling to a climax where all the instruments reach a high point of fortissimo. Then the opening melody is heard three times more, every time shortened and slower until completely fading away.

Watch and Listen: Adagio for Strings - broadcast from Albert Hall in London on September 15, 2001. Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Orchestra.

Listen: NPR's "The Impact of Adagio for Strings" - fascinating story behind Arturo Toscanini's 1938 premiere of Barber's famous work