Samuel Barber’s famous Adagio for strings began life as the slow movement of his String Quartet, composed in 1936. Aspects of that original scoring suggest Barber himself was already imagining hearing it via richer, larger forces, but it was Arturo Toscanini who requested the orchestral arrangement, and who subsequently conducted its 1938 premiere on NBC Radio.
While Barber’s Adagio feels as much late Romantic European as it does American – and the String Quartet was inspired by a stay in Austria – Copland’s 1944 ballet for dancer Martha Graham, Appalachian Spring, sounds unmistakably rooted in the New World. Opening on wide, softly reflective chords, its narrative describes a newly married couple as they contemplate their forthcoming married life as homesteaders, joined in their ruminations by a preacher and an older pioneer woman. The hope-filled score includes country dance-like music, and variations on the traditional hymn, “Simple Gifts” or “Lord of the Dance”, before coming full circle to close in prayerful chords reminiscent of the very beginning.
Brahms wrote his Violin Concerto in 1878 for his great friend, Hungarian violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Joachim’s national heritage is clearly heard in its gypsyish Finale, while the first movement’s demanding violin writing reflects his famed technical mastery. Its Adagio opens with one of the orchestral repertoire’s most beautiful solos, for oboe.