Listen & Do #2: Samuel Barber’s “Excursions”

This suite of short pieces takes small classical forms and injects them – ignites them, really – with American folk idioms. You hear boogie woogie, blues, and even a barn dance fitted into traditional classical forms. This is an example of a composer taking traditional structures and injecting cultural references to renew the form. The piece was written between 1942 and 1945 for Vladimir Horowitz, who played the premiere in 1945 and plays it on this recording.

QUESTION: Composers have always borrowed from the culture around them. We live in a remix mashup culture now, where media – video, music, images – are the raw material for many artists, not just as things to refer to, but as actual building blocks for new music, movies, stories. Do these earlier versions of remixing – the Barber, for example – still sound fresh and inventive? Or do they sound naive?

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  1. Hope Schneider says

    Not naive to these aging ears, utterly charming and the middle piece, blues, fascinating in its adherence to the structure of 16 bar blues but with such a twist – the last note remarkable. Fresh and inventive ? is, perhaps, the more probing question. I am not at all sure what I hear as “fresh” and/or “inventive” anymore. I almost don’t care about that dimension, “newness” has lost its fascination if it ever had much for me. Honest, authentic, original, deep, moving, human, surprising…more important descriptors to me.

  2. The Barber pieces sounded fresh and inventive to me because those qualities come from the dynamics, structure and texture of the music itself, which preserves nicely over time and does not require “modern” techniques to remain fresh and vibrant today.

  3. I would say lovely & humble

  4. Cherrie Henkle says

    I have to say this sounds more fresh and inventive, and creative than todays copycat building block system. In my mind todays “mashups” lack the artistic talent that this piece shows well. I dont find this naive at all, I find it refreshing.

  5. Samantha Dias says

    Perhaps the charm lies in the naivety, the clear experimentation makes it a delight to hear. Drawing inspiration from culture and presenting it in fresh avatar is what makes an artist, an artist. In today’s times though inspiration is an excuse for less originality and more copycat creations. A fresh take on a classic piece that brings more personality to the table, like the Bad Plus take on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), shows that remix can be original as well.