The undoubtedly best-known composition by Samuel Barber, who died in 1981, is the middle movement of his String Quartet op. 11, composed in the years 1935-36: soon after the work’s premiere in December 1936, the composer drew up a version of the adagio for string orchestra that Arturo Toscanini, conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra, presented to the public in November 1938. From then on, there was no stopping this slow movement – according to Barber, a real “hit”. Barber’s Adagio was played at the funeral ceremonies for two presidents of the United States, as well as the burial of a Nobel Prize winner in physics. Thereafter in 1967, Barber let himself be allured into arranging his successful piece for chorus set to the mediaeval “Agnus Dei” sequence. Ultimately, however, the composer, who was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize, is said to have been angry about how the Adagio, later used by directors such as David Lynch and Oliver Stone as film music, consigned his other works into oblivion.
One can say nothing of the kind about Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor op. 30, composed in 1876: the Russian composer’s chamber music was always overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s operas and ballets, as well as his symphonic and concert pieces. The Emerson String Quartet has been considered one of the most important chamber music ensembles of our day since their founding in 1976. They will place Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet and Barber’s Adagio in the context of a new work by the British composer Marc-Anthony Turnage, who was born in 1960.