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FULL Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (Barber) London 2015 Russell Thomas

Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO          Qries

Information on the Performance
Information about the Recording
  • Published by: Rosenblatt Recitals  
  • Date Published: 2015  
  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: nosubs  
  • Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24, is a 1947 work for voice and orchestra by Samuel Barber, with text from a 1938 short prose piece by James Agee. The work was commissioned by soprano Eleanor Steber, who premiered it in 1948 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky. Although the piece is traditionally sung by a soprano, it may also be sung by tenor. The text is in the persona of a male child.

Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is a lush, richly textured work. Setting music to excerpts from “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”, a 1938 prose poem by James Agee that later became a preamble to his posthumously published, Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Death in the Family (1957), Barber paints an idyllic, nostalgic picture of Agee’s native Knoxville, Tennessee. The preamble is a simple, dreamlike depiction of an evening in the American South, narrated by a child who seems, at times, to transform into an adult. It is difficult to tell at times the identity of the speaker, enhancing the dreamlike quality of the work.

Knoxville is set in one movement, and the composer described it as “lyric rhapsody”. It broadly conforms to the “ABA” pattern suggested by the text, and is rondo-like in form, with “several interconnected sections, tied together with a recurring refrain”. Barber’s choice to compose in a relatively free large-scale form parallels Agee’s own choice in developing his work; both represent the fruits of a spontaneous improvisation, fueled by a moving nostalgia:

I was greatly interested in improvisatory writing, as against carefully composed, multiple-draft writing: i.e., with a kind of parallel to improvisation in jazz, to a certain kind of “genuine” lyric which I thought should be purely improvised … It took possibly an hour and a half; on revision, I stayed about 98 per cent faithful to my rule, for these “improvised” experiments, against any revision whatever.

— James Agee, “Program Notes of the Boston Symphony Orchestra”[

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