Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was a highly versatile composer known for his two operatic works (Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra), along with his many works for orchestra, strings, piano, and voice. Of his compositions for voice and piano, perhaps his best known and most loved is his collection of Hermit Songs. The Hermit Songs is a setting of semi-reverent, semi-crass texts written by Irish monks between the 8th and 13th centuries. The cycle was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in 1953. That same year, it was premiered at The Library of Congress by soprano Leontyne Price. Barber accompanied.
Of the ten Hermit Songs, the most poignant to me has always been “The Crucifixion.” (Listen once, and you’ll understand exactly why.)
Given that we are just over halfway through Lent, it seems appropriate to share it today. The text reads as follows:
At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify thee, O Swan.
Never shall lament cease because of that.
It was like the parting of day from night.
Ah, sore was the suffering borne
By the body of Mary’s son.
But sorer still to Him was the grief
Which for His sake came upon His mother.
–Translation by Howard Mumford Jones