CJ Replay: Barber "Reincarnations"
Date: February 13, 2014
(An excerpt from the Choral Journal article, "The Lyric Voice in Samuel Barber’s Reincarnations," by David H. Castleberry)
Reincarnations, Barber's op. 16, was composed during his sole teaching appointment, 1939-42, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, from which he had graduated five years earlier with majors in voice, piano, and composition. These early works reflect Barber's care regarding text selection and setting, his characteristic attention to individual vocal lines within choral textures, and his manipulation of formal elements for expressive effect. Although Barber's musical vocabulary evolved in later works toward greater melodic angularity and a bolder use of dissonance, these settings demonstrate the essence of his style to a remarkable degree.
The text of Barber's Reincarnations is taken from the writings of James Stephens (1882-1950), whose interest in the Irish Literary Revival links him with both James Joyce (another poet whose verse Barber set) and William Butler Yeats. Stephens was fascinated with early Gaelic poetry but was not fluent in the language. He became familiar with a large body of Gaelic literature through Irish Texts Society editions and translations by Douglas Hyde and others. Stephens's Reincarnations, published in 1918, is a collection of new poems based upon these translations.