Seymour Barab

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Seymour Barab (born January 9, 1921 in Chicago, Illinois – died June 28, 2014 in Manhattan) was an American composer of opera, songs, instrumental, and chamber music, as well as a cellist, organist, and pianist.[1] He was known for his fairy tale operas for young audiences, such as Chanticleer and Little Red Riding Hood. He was a longtime member of the Philip Glass Ensemble.

Early life[edit]

Seymour Barab was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 21, 1921 to Samuel Barab and Leah Yablunky. Although both Barab’s parents were Polish immigrants, the two did not meet until they had both moved to the United States separately. After they were married they gave birth in 1913 to Seymour’s older brother, Abraham, who would later change his name to Oscar. Seymour’s father also changed his name in later years to Leo, however it is unclear why either family member changed their given names.[2] Growing up, the Barab family had little money, but that did not hinder Seymour Barab’s musical education. In an interview with James Moore, Barab stated, “I was given piano lessons beginning at an early age, because, although we were poor, we were very cultured people. The household names in our house were Paderewski, Galli-Curci and it was only natural that I would be given piano lessons.”[3] Barab started lessons with his aunt, Gertrude Yablunky, at a young age. Although his aunt was not a professional pianist or teacher, Barab felt that he “got something from her.”[4]

When Barab was thirteen he started his first musical job as an organist for a church of spiritual healing that his aunt attended. According to Barab, “… I played just about well enough so that when this pastor of the church asked my aunt, who she knew was a little bit of a musician, if she knew anybody who could do soft organ playing, she recommended me.”[5] Barab did not learn the cello until he entered Lane Tech High School in Chicago, Illinois in 1935. A rare high school for the time, Lane Tech offered a four-year music program that Barab was eager to enroll in, but in order to do so I had to learn an orchestral instrument. He decided to learn the cello for one simple reason: “…They happened to need cellos. If they had needed a French horn player, I’d be a French horn player,” Barab stated in an interview with William McCrary.[6] At this time, Barab began taking lessons with the high school orchestra conductor. While at Lane Tech Barab became friends with Ben Weber and George Perle, both of whom would go on to become well known contemporary composers. Together, in 1938, the three founded the New Music Group of Chicago “which was organized with the sole purpose of performing contemporary (20th-Century) music.”[7] The group premiered their own compositions in addition to works by other contemporary composers. Most notably, they gave the Chicago premier of Bela Bartok’s First String Quartet. With the founding of this group, Barab became a lifelong champion of contemporary music.[8] In an interview in 2000, Barab described the impact Ben Weber and George Perle had on his life, "These two guys were very influential in my life, because I learned from them. I learned all about music, really. It gave me something to be dedicated to, unplayed music by talented composers. Of course we were all very young then. I just decided that this was what I wanted to do, rather than play the concerto repertoire and the sonata repertoire."[9]

Performance career[edit]

After finishing high school, Seymour Barab entered the music field as a professional cellist. His first professional position was as a cellist in the Indianapolis Symphony orchestra. This was followed by a string of professional orchestras in large cities around the United States including Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.[10] Other orchestras in which Barab has been a member include The Chicago Civic Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.[11] In an interview with James Moore Barab recounted his early days as a cellist saying, “…That’s the way I made my living. I went from one [orchestra] to the other, which is hard to imagine these days… Not only was it easy to get into one of these orchestras, but you went from one to the other. You stayed in one, one season. Then, you moved up to a better orchestra.”[12]

During World War II, Barab joined the Navy as musician and was stationed in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. While there, he learned to play clarinet so he could play with the military band. According to Barab, the main reason he was stationed in the Philadelphia Navy Yard was because Eugen Ormandy recruited him as a cellist so there would be a “string orchestra to play for the Officier’s Lunch.”[13] It was during this time that Barab played with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in addition to studying cello with Gregor Piatigorsky, who was teaching at Curtis Institute of Music at the time.

Toward the end of World War II, Barab married Shirley Gabis. Their marriage was short, ending in an annulment five years later.[14] During this time, after the war came to a close, Barab moved to New York City where he eventually took up permanent residence for the remainder of his life, after time in Portland, Oregon and in Paris. In New York Barab played for both the American Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Systems, in addition to playing in the Galimir String Quartet and helping to found the New Music Quartet of New York. He later became acquainted with Noah Greenberg with whom he founded the New York Pro Musica Antiqua in which Barab played viola da gamba. “He needed a viola da gamba player, me being a friend and accessible, I just took it up,” Barab recalled.[15]

Compositional Career and Musical Style[edit]

Seymour Barab did not begin composing until he spent a year in Paris, France from 1950-1951 on the G.I. Bill.[16] While in Paris, Barab worked with Rene Liebowitz as a recoding producer, and together they recorded operas and symphonies. When asked what drew him to composition, Barab answered that it was envy from spending time with so many wonderful composers. “…eventually I came to think that they had a much better life than I had, they could do what they did anywhere, but I was kinda [sic] stuck with a job or with commitments, that sort of thing. I’ve always been interested in fooling around writing music…” Barab stated.[17] Interestingly enough, several years later Barab suggested that it was his relationship with well-known singer, Pat Neway, and the upright piano in his rented Parisian apartment that led to the start of his composition in France, saying, “I would play and she would sing. I would act like sort of a coach. Gradually, I began to get interested in writing for the voice.”[18] Barab wrote strictly songs when he was in Paris but it was not long before he began to venture into other genres.

The next few years after Barab’s return to New York from Paris in 1951 were very eventful. Upon his return, Barab was offered a position as an assistant professor of cello at Black Mountain College.[19] In addition to meeting his second wife at Black Mountain College, Mary Ann, with whom he had two children, Miriam and Jesse, Barab also completed one of his first songs cycles entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses.[20] It was a recording of this song cycle, sung by Russell Oberlin, which sold many copies that landed Barab another job as a professor of composition at Rutgers University.[21] Barab added another faculty position to his employment by accepting a job at the New England Conservatory of Music starting the Composer’s Quartet. Through the Composer’s Quartet Barab was able to continue championing the music of contemporary composers, stating in an interview, “…Our idea then was to do nothing but contemporary music and especially contemporary music that nobody else would play. I loved that, doing things that just aren’t going to be done. That gave me a real purpose in life.”[22] Two more of his songs cycles were published before the end of the fifties that continued to further his reputation as a composer of tonal music, namely Four Songs and Songs of Perfect Propriety.

In the mid fifties, Barab began to dabble in opera composition. He began collaborating with Mary Caroline Richards as a librettist on an opera that would eventually become his first opera Chanticleer.[23] Chanticleer premiered in Aspen on August 4, 1956 and was met with favorable reviews and much success.[24] One David M. Epstein reviewed the premier in Musical America, stating, "The Barab work, with a libretto by M.C. Richards, is a one act, humorous affair done with a delightful, light touch. Barab has provided a tuneful setting, relatively simple harmonically, but handled with freshness. …With its small cast and charming writing, this should be a popular work with small companies."[25] Barab came to be known for the simple and tuneful musical style described by Epstein in his compositions throughout his career. In January 1957, Barab’s second opera, A Game of Chance, with libretto by E. Manacher premiered in Rock Island, Illinois and was also received well by the public.[26] Both Chanticleer and A Game of Chance are two of Barab’s most performed operas, but his most famous opera was not written until the early sixties.

Little Red Riding Hood is not only Barab’s most performed opera, but it is the most often performed opera by an American composer.[27] In addition, Little Red Riding Hood paved the way for more of Seymour Barab’s fairy-tale and children’s operas for which he is most well known. Barab started working on the opera after Winifred Leventritt requested him to compose an opera that would be suitable for an audience of children in her program called “Young Audiences” which toured around public schools. In William McCrary’s interview, Barab recalled meeting with Leventritt to discuss possible subject matter for the opera, saying “…She just flippantly said, ‘Oh any story will do… [how about] Little Red Riding Hood’ and I thought, my God, is it really that simple?”[28] The libretto for Little Red Riding Hood is the first libretto that Barab wrote himself. Barab does an amazing job of catering to the minds of children by providing a prologue, in which the singer playing the part of the wolf gets his make up done on stage in front of the audience, allowing the children to see the transformation to reassure the children that the wolf is really just a man in costume.[29] This sensitivity to young audiences prevails in his other fairy-tale operas, as well, with Barab cutting out the violence, and sometimes tweaking the story to drive home the moral point.

The early 1970s proved to be quite eventful for Seymour Barab. In 1971 Barab divorced his wife, Mary Ann, and in 1972, he was married a third time to a woman named Margie King. Together they had a daughter, Sarah.[30] In addition to actively composing new works, Barab’s full-length opera Phillip Marshall was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.[31] Gerald Helund, in a review of Phillip Marshall, stated, "If the libretto seemed perfectly suited to the music it stands to reason: Barab created his own – packed with power, believability, and character with depth, animation and color. This Civil War ‘mainstream mondern’ work belongs on the operatic agenda for 1976 with Ward’s The Crucible and Floyd’s Susannah. American Opera could have three no better representatives."[32]

Barab continued to be an active composer until his death on June 28, 2014, composing operas, songs, instrumental works, and innovative narrated instrumental works. In 1998 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Opera Association.[33]

External links[edit]

A complete list of Barab's works can be found on his website:

Select Recordings of Barab's music can be found here with a subscription:

And on Youtube:

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Seymour Barab biography
  2. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 140.
  3. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 141.
  4. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N.Y., 21 March 1996 quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 19.
  5. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996 in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 196.
  6. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996 in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 195.
  7. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 25.
  8. ^ Margalit Rox, “Seymour Barab Dies at 93; Composer of Impish Opera,” New York Times, July 18, 2014, final edition, LexisNexis Academic, http://www.lexisnexis.com.
  9. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 146.
  10. ^ William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 20.
  11. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 4.
  12. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 146-147.
  13. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 1148-149.
  14. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 27.
  15. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 150.
  16. ^ William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 28.
  17. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996 in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 197.
  18. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by James K. Moore, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington, 29 June 2000 quoted in James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 29.
  19. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 30.
  20. ^ William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 23.
  21. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 30.
  22. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, transcribed tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996 quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 24.
  23. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 32.
  24. ^ The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., s.v. “Seymour Barab,” Grove Dictionary Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
  25. ^ David M. Epstein, “Aspen Festival Proves Energetic Under Solomon,” Musical America LXXVI.11 (1956): 9 quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 25.
  26. ^ The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., s.v. “Seymour Barab,” Grove Dictionary Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
  27. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 33.
  28. ^ Seymour Barab, interview by William McCrary, tape recording, telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996 quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 25.
  29. ^ Dena J. Epstein, “Little Red Riding Hood. A Children’s Opera in One Act by Seymour Barab,” Notes, Second Series, vol. 23, no.2, December 1966, JStor, http://www.jstor.org/stable/895442.
  30. ^ James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000), 34.
  31. ^ The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., s.v. “Seymour Barab,” Grove Dictionary Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
  32. ^ Gerald Heglund, “Barab Opera Wins Praise,” Music Journal 33 n5, (May, 1975): 18 quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 25.
  33. ^ The Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed., s.v. “Seymour Barab,” Grove Dictionary Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.

Sources

  • Barab, Seymour. Interview by James K. Moore. Transcribed tape recording. Telephone conversation from Seattle, Washington. 29 June 2000. In James K. Moore, “The Songs of Seymour Barab.” (PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000).
  • Barab, Seymour. Interview by William McCrary. Tape recording. Telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996. Quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab.” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997).
  • Barab, Seymour. Interview by William McCrary. Transcribed tape recording. Telephone conversation from New York, N. Y., 21 March 1996. In William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997).
  • Epstein, David M. “Aspen Festival Proves Energetic Under Solomon,” Musical America LXXVI.11 1956: 9. Quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab,” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 25.
  • Epstein, Dena J. “Little Red Riding Hood. A Children’s Opera in One Act by Seymour Barab.” Notes, Second Series, vol. 23, no.2, December 1966. JStor. http://www.jstor.org/stable/895442.
  • Fox, Margalit. “Seymour Barab Dies at 93; Composer of Impish Opera.” New York Times, July 18, 2014, final edition. LexisNexis Academic. http://www.lexisnexis.com.
  • The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd ed. s.v. “Seymour Barab.” Grove Dictionary Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
  • Heglund, Gerald. “Barab Opera Wins Praise.” Music Journal 33 n5. May, 1975: 18. Quoted in William McCrary, “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab.” (PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997), 25.
  • McCrary, William. “The Fairy Tale Operas of Seymour Barab.” PhD diss., University of Northern Colorado, 1997.
  • Moore, James K. “The Songs of Seymour Barab.” PhD diss., University of Washington, 2000.
  • Biography
  • List of works