The Saddest Music Ever Written

That title caught my eye.  Yes, it refers to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. Certainly, anyone compiling a "top ten" list would have to include this piece at or near the top.  But what is it about this music that moves us so, that makes it the default soundtrack for communal grieving on so many occasions?  What is its place in Barber's oeuvre?  How does it "work" musically?  In his book Thomas Larson probes these questions and more.  This is a memoir, a biography, a discourse on aesthetics, and personal reflection on one hundred years of cultural history.  But even more, it is an invitation and reminder to listen to this masterpiece with fresh ears and revel in its mystery.  Larson cites Leonard Bernstein: "Why do so many of us try to explain the beauty of music, thus depriving it of its mystery?  He directs readers to landmark performances conducted by Schippers and Slatkin.  Both outstanding and sublime.  I have to admit I only knew Barber's Adagio and his Piano Concerto. The book introduced me to his vocal music, in particular, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a setting of a James Agee poem, and Dover Beach, based on a poem by Matthew Arnold.  I have gladly added these to my recordings.

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    "Where words leave off, music begins."  
    - Heinrich Heine