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Samuel Barber’s Letter to Mother

A portrait of composer Samuel Barber

If you’ve ever kept a deep dark secret from your parents, you’re not alone.

At the ripe old age of nine, American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981) harbored a secret so terrifying that he feared his mother would cry when she found out. Barber’s secret concerned his true passions, which, as it turned out, were a far cry from his prescribed path as an athlete. When the young composer could no longer keep the secret concealed any longer, he confessed to his mother in the form of a handwritten letter left on her desk. He wrote in 1919:

NOTICE to Mother and nobody else

Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with, I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing.—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very),


Sam Barber II

A year after getting this off his chest, Samuel Barber began composing his first opera, The Rose Tree. As a teenager, he attending Curtis Institute, where he became a triple prodigy in composition, voice, and piano. Barber went on to win the Rome Prize, two Pultizer Prizes, and most of all, the hearts and minds of classical audiences around the world. From his orchestral Adagio for Strings to his piano Excursions, Op. 20 and Violin Concerto in D, Barber’s unapologetic, expressive style served as a welcome foil to the angular, Modernist trends of his time and secured his place as one of the most celebrated American composers of the 20th century.

We continue to celebrate Samuel Barber’s romantic legacy on KUSC every day.

But no word as to whether Mother, in fact, cried…

Written by:
Chrysanthe Tan
Chrysanthe Tan
Published on 07.28.2019