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About this Piece

Summer Music was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit (basically crowd funded by its members, long before that concept became an online technique) for the principals of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who gave its premiere in 1956. Samuel Barber had composed it, however, with the players of the New York Wind Quintet in mind, utilizing their “favorite effects.” The New York ensemble quickly took up the piece and played it several times both in the United States and South America. 

The introduction, marked “slow and indolent,” evokes a bluesy atmosphere, specifically of the Gershwin variety, perhaps a reference to his Summertime. One also catches quick glimpses of the introduction to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in the occasional harsh but playful dissonance. After the oboe spins a long, gentle theme, a more agitated section ensues, in which the individual instruments chatter among themselves in ascending solo flourishes. The overall form is palindromic, the same backwards as forwards, with the bluesy opening returning at the quintet’s close, mixed with short echoes of previous sections.

From notes in the LA Phil archives