Thomas Larson called Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” “the saddest music ever written,” and he may be right.
NPR describes the premiere performance on 5 November 1938 with conductor Arturo Toscanini leading the NBC Symphony Orchestra, broadcast to millions of radio listeners.
From This Day in History:
Adagio for Strings had begun not as a freestanding piece, but as one movement of Barber’s 1936 String Quartet No. 1, Opus 11. When that movement provoked a mid-composition standing ovation at its premiere performance, Barber decided to create the orchestral adaptation that he would soon send to Toscanini.
In later years, the piece would be played at the state funerals of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, taking its place as what one observer has called “the semi-official music of mourning.”
It is an adaptable piece, which has been arranged for solo organ, clarinet choir, woodwind band, and, as Agnus Dei, for chorus with optional organ or piano accompaniment, among others.
9/11 tribute. Leonard Slatkin, conductor. LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL IN ENGLAND – 2001.
September 11: 10th-anniversary memorial concert, Steven Schneider, organist. St. James’ Episcopal Church, Marietta, GA.