Adagio for Strings
Samuel Barber


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Barber's most famous piece falls one place this year

For many, it was its use in the film Platoon. For others, it was William Orbit's Pieces in a Modern Style project. But very few of us can claim to have first experienced Barber's Adagio for Strings in its original form: as part of a string quartet.

The American composer wrote his string Quartet Opus 11 in 1936 and considered himself happy with the result. But he had one of the twentieth-century's greatest conductors to thank for what became a new and far more profitable life for this relatively unknown piece. Arturo Toscanini spotted a hit when he heard its second movement, and urged Barber to arrange it for full string orchestra. The composer wisely took the advice on board and, in 1938, Toscanini premiered the new work with the NBC symphony Orchestra. Millions of Americans were listening as it was broadcast on the radio, and Adagio for Strings quickly became a huge success.