July 15, 2017 | Malcolm Johnstone
West Chester PA — Samuel Barber (1910-1981), America’s celebrated composer and West Chester native, continues to have an artistic influence with a new film Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty, and West Chester University’s graduate music program The Samuel Barber Institute for Music Educators.
Barber’s family first lived at 35 South High Street. But within a few years, they relocated to 107 South Church Street, where two historic markers identify the red brick house as his childhood home.
When he was a young boy, Sam Barber, as he was called, developed a precocious natural aptitude for composing and playing the piano. The following excerpt, from an extensive 1994 biography, speaks of his powerful talent:
“Barber’s interest in the piano was too strong to be denied—he was beginning to teach himself—thus in 1919 his parents obtained lessons for him with the best piano teacher they could find in West Chester, William Hatton Green, a former pupil of Leschetizky in Vienna. Green played an important role in the musical life of West Chester; he frequently gave recitals himself and accompanied Louise Homer and other singers when they performed in the community. Barber studied with Green until he entered Curtis in 1924 and kept in contact with him long after. With the devotion typically accorded by a teacher to a successful student, Green followed Barber’s career avidly and kept a clipping file of programs, news articles, and reviews about him. Barber participated in recitals of Green’s students from the time he was nine years old, and on these occasions he sometimes played his own works. At one such recital, on 7 April 1920 at the First Presbyterian Church in West Chester, he played duets and solo piano pieces by Clementi, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Stephen Heller, and three works of his own: two for piano—’At Twilight’ and ‘Lullaby’ (both 1919), a ‘virtuosic’ effort requiring complicated hand crossings and including his first use of dynamic and tempo markings—and a song, ‘Child and Mother’ (on words from the ubiquitous Book of Knowledge, vol. 12), in which he was joined by the versatile young soprano Miss Charlsie Eddins. The pair further impressed their audience with a selection of ‘Auto Harp Duetts.’
“’Sam was at his best,’ the [Daily Local News] puffed; ‘the manner in which he executed different selections. . . . brought round after round of applause.'”
Samuel Barber, the Composer and His Music
by Barbara B. Heyman
Oxford University Press, 1994
This book may be purchased at the Chester County Historical Society where part of the proceeds support the museum and its activities.