In 1935, Samuel Barber (1910-1981) won the prestigious American Prix de Rome prize and it was in Rome that he composed this symphony. It was first performed there, and soon also in America and at the Salzburg Festival.
In the programme notes for the New York première, 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."
Well, in spite of that rather formal description the work is wonderfully warm, at times bombastic, richly lyrical and full of Barber's trademark intensity.
Recorded 17 June 2017, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert
Producer: David McCaw
Engineer: Graham Kennedy