Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (cymbal, bass drum, snare drum, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone), strings, and solo organ
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Barber was somewhat of an anomaly in the music world of his day. For one thing, his outright melodicism set him apart. For another thing, he was not part of any one musical school and never stuck to any one style. He seemed just to write music, and from an extremely early age knew he would be a composer. Although some called him "neo-Romantic," his approach to form is as modern as Stravinsky's and his orchestration is often quite experimental. Nonetheless, he burst onto the American scene in the early 1930s with some of his most famous works, including the Adagio for Strings, and by the '50s and '60s he rarely lacked commissions.
Barber sketched out the Toccata Festiva during the spring of 1960, mostly at his summer home near Mt. Kisco, N.Y. Both words of the title are significant. The word toccata means "to touch," and this is truly a toccata, with dazzling fingerwork for the soloist, and the deep lyricism so characteristic of Barber's mature work. The Toccata's striking 5/8 motif generates much of its propulsive musical material. Written for the inauguration of a new organ at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, it is not only vividly festive for the organ, but powerfully soulful with its simple Americana-like melodies in the strings and winds.
- Jessie Rothwell is a freelance musician and writer living in Los Angeles.