The Singing Composer

June 27, 2010

I once heard a famous composer express the conviction that all composers are frustrated singers. No friend to such blanket claims in general, I nevertheless began to form an interesting list in my mind; so I ventured: “It might support your suggestion to recall how many recent composers have been excellently sympathetic pianists in performance with singers: you, Britten, Poulenc, Barber, Bernstein, Hoiby, Bolcom, Musto.” Those were, I believe, the names that I suggested. For some reason, the composer sneered and said, “I don’t see your point.”

Well, I — and he — could have gone further. Samuel Barber, the centenary of whose birth we observe this year and who wrote magnificent songs, was not only a notable accompanist but was able to sing his own songs beautifully: