A New Film Celebrates Samuel Barber's Search for Absolute Beauty

Jul 20, 2017

While Samuel Barber is best known for his moving Adagio for Strings, he wrote a lot of other music that continues to inspire musicians and listeners to this day. WRTI’s Susan Lewis talked with filmmaker Paul Moon about his documentary, Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty, which had its Philadelphia premiere on Saturday, July 15, 2017 on WHYY-TV.   An encore performance will air on Friday, July 21st, at noon. 

Radio script:

Susan Lewis: Filmmaker Paul Moon explores Barber’s influence though a range of works, beginning with Dover Beach – for baritone and string quartet – which Barber wrote in 1931 as a student at Curtis:

Music: Dover Beach

Paul Moon: Dover Beach was his first great composition, and it’s a Victorian poem that already gives you clues about the seriousness of Samuel Barber’s intentions.

SL: Intentions to be true to himself. Barber went on to create a body of work in a variety of forms that navigated between classical traditions and contemporary trends. An exploration of Barber’s music lends insight into his life, especially with the work Knoxville Summer of 1915. In an interview from the archives, Barber reads the lyrics that recall both Knoxville and his hometown of West Chester.

Excerpt from Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty

Samuel Barber: It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently…

SL:  Among the many people in the film are conductors Marin Alsop and Leonard Slatkin, biographer Barbara Heyman and Barber’s longtime companion, composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Moon took the title “Absolute Beauty” from a comment made by Leonard Bernstein.

PM: Barber always reminded him of Plato, and Plato represents this belief in the absolutes, as Bernstein says, a faith in the concept that there is an absolute beauty and an absolute rightness of things. It's not throwing out what came before; it's not asking what’s in fashion, and it's not beginning with the principal that one must experiment. It's incorporating all things.