Among the talented music students at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute in the late 1920s, a teenager named Samuel Barber must have stood out. After all, he was an incredibly gifted triple talent: a pianist, composition student, and a singer. Maybe it just ran in the family: his mother was a talented amateur pianist, his uncle Sidney Homer a respected composer of art songs, and his aunt Louise Homer was a leading soprano at the Metropolitan Opera.
On today's date in 1933, it was another Metropolitan Opera artist, mezzo-soprano Rose Bampton, who gave the premiere of one of Barber's early masterworks: a setting of a text by the British poet Matthew Arnold entitled "Dover Beach" for voice and string quartet.
This first recording of "Dover Beach," made in 1935, however, featured Barber himself as the vocalist, making him perhaps the only classical composer to sing one of his own works on a professional, major-label recording.
When the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams heard Barber sing his setting of "Dover Beach," he urged Barber to continue to compose. The young man took his advice, and rather than make a name for himself as a concert pianist or opera baritone, rapidly established himself as one of the major American composers of the 20th century.