Symphony in One Movement (Barber)

Samuel Barber's Symphony in One Movement (op. 9), was completed 24 February 1936. It was premiered by Rome's Philharmonic Augusteo Orchestra under the baton of Bernardino Molinari 13 December 1936. It lasts around 21 minutes. The title given in the printed score of the work is First Symphony (in One Movement) (Barber 1943), and the uniform title is Symphonies, no. 1, op. 9.


Barber commenced his work on the symphony in August 1935 and completed the work at the Anabel Taylor Foundation in Roquebrune in the French Alps. It was dedicated to his long-time companion Gian Carlo Menotti (Heyman 1992, 140). It received its American premiere by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Ringwall 21 and 23 January 1937 and was performed three times on 24 March 1937 at Carnegie Hall, New York by the New York Philharmonic–Symphony Orchestra under direction of Artur Rodziński (Heyman 1992, 143). Rodziński was a strong promoter of Barber's work and conducted the Vienna Philharmonic's performance of the symphony at the opening concert of the 1937 Salzburg Festival. It was the first performance of a symphonic work by an American composer at the festival.


The symphony is a condensed one-movement version of a classical four-movement symphony and is modeled after Sibelius' Symphony No. 7 (Heyman 1992, 141; Pollack 2000, 195). The work is divided into four sections:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Allegro molto
  3. Andante tranquillo
  4. Con moto

In the program notes for the New York premiere Barber explained:

The form of my Symphony in One Movement is a synthetic treatment of the four-movement classical symphony. It is based on three themes of the initial Allegro non troppo, which retain throughout the work their fundamental character. The Allegro ma non troppo opens with the usual exposition of a main theme, a more lyrical second theme, and a closing theme. After a brief development of the three themes, instead of the customary recapitulation, the first theme in diminution forms the basis of a scherzo section (vivace). The second theme (oboe over muted strings) then appears in augmentation, in an extended Andante tranquillo. An intense crescendo introduces the finale, which is a short passacaglia based on the first theme (introduced by violoncelli and contrabassi), over which, together with figures from other themes, the closing theme is woven, thus serving as a recapitulation for the entire symphony. (Heyman 1992, 140)

Barber made some revisions to the work in 1942–43. The revised version was first performed 18 February 1944 by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter.

Allegro non troppo

Main theme (mm. 2–4)

Lyrical second theme (mm. 29–31)

Closing theme (mm. 61–64)


First theme in diminution (mm. 138–42)

Andante tranquillo

Second theme (mm. 437–45)


First theme (mm. 522–27)


  • Barber, Samuel. 1943. First Symphony (in One Movement). G. Schirmer's Edition of Study Scores of Orchestral Works & Chamber Music 32. New York: G. Schirmer.
  • Heyman, Barbara B. 1992. Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509058-6.
  • Pollack, Howard. 2000. "Samuel Barber, Jean Sibelius, and the Making of an American Romantic". The Musical Quarterly 84, no. 2 (Summer) 175–205.

Further reading

  • Friedewald, Russell Edward. 1957. "A Formal and Stylistic Analysis of the Published Music of Samuel Barber". PhD diss. Ames: Iowa State University.
  • Tawa, Nicholas E. 2009. The Great American Symphony: Music, the Depression, and War. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-35305-4.
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