Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Philadelphia Composer

Every time I walk down Locust Street here in Philadelphia, it drives me slightly nuts to see this. Perhaps I am missing other signs--I have not actually made a study of this-- but as best I can tell, the main historical placard next to Curtis is this tribute to Vincent Persichetti. No offense to the man, but of the legions of people who have come through Curtis, many natives of the area, we give a plaque to someone famous for teaching at Juilliard?

My vote would be for Samuel Barber. Strictly speaking not a native, as he was from West Chester (where they are very proud of him), but studied at Curtis from a very early age. And while like Persichetti he spend most of his life elsewhere, there's something about his music--conservative, yes, but beautifully cosmopolitan--that strikes me as quintessentially Philadelphian. Last Friday I heard the Serafin Quartet, who are in residence at the University of Delaware this year, play Barber's Op. 11 quartet, famous of course for its Adagio. The first movement is a sophisticated exercise in Beethovenian development, quite attractive especially when placed up against the neo-medievalism of the second movement that is still, despite the hype, a great piece of music. Roy Harris's Third Symphony gets all of the press for this sound, so influential on Copland and others, but it's worth remembering the Barber did it first!


sociosound said...

Well as you said, Barber spent most of his time elsewhere as well (though admittedly, I'm a fan of Persichetti). Perhaps a "These notable musicians/composers came here" sign with a list would be more appropriate :)

Anonymous said...

A nice piece of music, but I just don't hear Barber's string sound as the model. Barber is just too close to Brahms, while the Americanists followed some constellation of Dvorak, Sibelius, and Stravinsky. The pioneers were Thomson and Ives (who was better known than is often acknowledged; i.e. Copland premiered "Charlie Rutledge".)