Three Songs : Work information

Samuel Barber ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Graham Johnson (Piano), Ann Murray (Mezzo-soprano)

This work

Work name
Three Songs
Work number
Op. 10
1936-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Ivan Pastor
Recording date

Track listing

  • Rain has Fallen 2:28 min
  • Sleep Now 2:52 min
  • I Hear an Army 2:31 min


As a result of his first-hand experience as a singer and his natural empathy for the voice, almost two-thirds of Barber's compositional output consists of songs. Many of these set nostalgic texts by European, often Celtic, poets. Of the numerous examples in the repertoire, these 3 settings of James Joyce texts are some of the most popular.

The 3 Songs Op. 10 were completed in 1936 during a two-year stay at the American Academy. Written for voice and piano, the piano part was also orchestrated, though their intimacy is perhaps best suited to piano accompaniment. Listen for the way the piano reflects the mood of the text: in Rain has fallen, the broken chords suggest droplets of rain; in Sleep Now, the gentle rocking of the piano grows more impassioned; and in I Hear an Army, the strident accompaniment features harsh military-like rhythms.

The Composers

Samuel Barber

Harbouring an ambition to sing from an early age, Samuel Barber left his home town of  West Chester, Pennsylvania, to study at the Curtis Institute at the age of 14.  His natural vocal talent was brought forth into a fine baritone and he received instruction in composition from Scalero.   Barber gave serious thought to making singing his profession, and he was able to combine his two main loves by including his own work in vocal recitals, moving on from recitals at the institute to live radio broadcasts and concerts in Vienna.

Barber won the Bearns Prize from Columbia University in 1928, the first of many such accolades he was to receive.  The money enabled him to travel, vital both for broadening the mind and in Barber's case to make the sort of contacts he would need as a composer.  While in Italy in 1935 he met conductor Arturo Toscanini, impressing the maestro with his compositions.  When Toscanini came to America he conducted the premieres of Barber's Second Symphony and his Adagio for Strings, his most famous piece.  Originally a movement from his 1936  String Quartet, the Adagio was adapted a second time in the late 1960s - Barber used the music to set the Agnus Dei text, and the subsequent choral work renewed the work's popularity.

Barber lived with a fellow composer and graduate of the Curtis Institute, Gian-Carlo Menotti, who was a lifelong companion and collaborator.  In addition to writing operas of his own, Menotti provided the libretto for Barber's opera Vanessa, first performed in 1958.  The work won Barber his first Pulitzer prize, an achievement he repeated in 1962 with his Piano Concerto.

Barber was seen by some as a traditional composer in a time of great change.  He relied on a Romantic sense of tonality and drama, but was not afraid to experiment with new techniques.  The 1940 Violin Concerto referenced Igor Stravinsky in its angular diatonicism, and the Piano Sonata made use of Arnold Schoenberg's serial techniques and the renewed interest in fugue prevalent at the time.

Related composers: Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein