Composers Datebook®

Barber's "scandalous" Overture

Composer's Datebook - Aug. 30, 2023


On today’s date in 1933, the Philadelphia Orchestra was performing at its summer home at Robin Hood Dell. Conductor Alexander Smallens led the world premiere performance of a new work by a 23-year-old composer named Samuel Barber. It was his first orchestral composition to have a major public hearing, but oddly enough, young Mr. Barber himself was not in attendance.

He was in Europe that summer, and so missed the premiere of his Overture to The School for Scandal, a musical romp inspired by the 18th century English Restoration comedy of the same name by Richard Sheridan.

Even before he had left the Curtis Institute of Music, where he pursued a triple major in piano, composition, and voice, Barber had begun winning prizes that enabled him to study abroad. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, Barber’s musical career was quite Euro-centric.

His School for Scandal Overture, in fact, was written in Italy in 1931. Barber’s First Symphony premiered in Rome in 1936, and the following year was played by the Vienna Philharmonic at the 1937 Salzburg Music Festival. That led to stateside performances and commissions from conductors like Bruno Walter and Arturo Toscanini.

Music Played in Today's Program

Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981) School for Scandal Overture Baltimore Symphony; David Zinman, conductor. Argo 436 288

On This Day


  • 1820 - American song composer and music publisher George F. Root; He wrote "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp - The Boys are Marching

  • 1943 - American composer David Maslanka, in New Bedford, Mass.;


  • 1933 - Barber: "School for Scandal" Overture, at a Robin Hood Dell concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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