Essay for Orchestra

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Samuel Barber's Essay for Orchestra (Op. 12), completed in the first half of 1938, is an orchestral work in one movement. It was given its first performance by Arturo Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on November 5, 1938 in New York in a radio broadcast concert in which the composer's Adagio for Strings saw its first performance. It lasts around 8 minutes and is dedicated "To C.E.". The essay is now known as the First Essay for Orchestra after Barber wrote his Second Essay for Orchestra in 1942. He wrote his Third Essay for Orchestra in 1978.

Barber visited Toscanini several times in 1933 and the world famous conductor told Barber that he would like to perform one of his works. This was a great honor for the young composer, particularly because Toscanini rarely performed works by contemporary or American composers. Barber presented his work to Toscanini in 1938.

The Essay is abstract and non-programmatic. It resembles but is not equivalent to a first movement of a symphony.

Besides the world premiere in 1938, Toscanini also performed the music on January 24, 1942, in a special War Bonds performance that was preserved on transcription discs; Toscanini never made a commercial recording of the music. Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the music in 1942 for RCA Victor in the Academy of Music. Leonard Slatkin and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra recorded all three of Barber's Essays for Orchestra.

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