Anyone interested in Barber's life and/or music should seek out the amazing bio by Barbara Heyman, Samuel Barber - The Composer and his Music (Oxford U. Press). As a lifelong student of the career & music of Barber, I was upset to read this recent book. It contains numerous inaccuracies, half-truths, ambiguities, and similarly misleading statements. And was there ANY attempt at editing the ms? The text is likewise marred by errors in usage, punctuation, even vocabulary. The Britten section has the same problems. And while the recorded music samples on the attached cd are most welcome, they do not fairly represent the composers, either - it's all from the "middle period" of each man and don't properly represent either composer's stylistic breadth. The concept of a brief book introducing these composers to the lay listener, with listening excerpts provided in the package, is a fine one, which makes me doubly sad that this project is such a disappointment. P.S. Having heard from the author, I now understand why some of the above-mentioned faults exist - and must say I'm shocked that a publisher I once respected, Amadeus, would let something like this happen. It's a disservice to the author as well as the public and the subjects of the book.
Filled with Errors2011/9/14
John D. Randolph
Samuel Barber has been neglected in print (only one major biography and not a whole lot else) so whenever a new book comes along, it's a welcome thing. Unfortunately any of the merits of this book are completely outweighed by the fact that the book is completely filled with errors. If you are a dilettante and are just looking for a breezy, easy read, it's fine for that. But for the more serious reader, interested in accuracy and real scholarship, this book should be avoided.
The main problem with this book is that the author gives no compelling reason for linking these two composers, other than the fact that both were gay. This is a tenuous connection at best. I hate to break it to the world at large, but all gay people aren't alike. Certainly you can tell the difference between the music of the two and you can distinguish their artistic aims. Britten is ultimately more political than Barber. The themes he takes up of the outsider reflect the precarious legal status of homosexuals in England during his lifetime. I liked best about this book that it comes with a CD, for people who haven't heard anything of either composer's catalogue.
The book is really an introduction. If you've already heard a fair amount of Barber and Britten, I doubt Felsenfeld has much to tell you. On the other hand, his descriptions are usually accurate, if a bit surface-y and blah. For those looking for more depth, try Heyman's bio of Barber, Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise, the Humphrey Carpenter Britten bio, and the criticism of Donald Mitchell.
A welcome addition to Barber research!!2005/10/18
Jennifer L. Barrett
I was so pleased to find that this book had just come out! I'm researching Barber for a Masters Thesis project and enjoyed the information presented-some that has not been discussed in the handful of books about him. Very interesting to see the similarities between him and Britten. The CD that comes with it is also nice. Well-written and a good read!
But what is on the CD you ask...2005/7/26
Since nearly half of the book is dedicated to the discussion and dissection of Benjamin Britton's and Samuel Barber's compositions, here listed is the music on the accompanying Naxos CD: 1) Britten: Passacaglia (from Peter Grimes); 2) Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (complete); 3) Britten: The Turn of the Screw (Act II: Variation XV, scene 8); 4) Barber: Adagio for Strings; 5) Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915; and 6) Barber: Second Essay for Orchestra. I will offer a review of the book itself after I read it as it just arrived in my mailbox today (July 26, 2005).