Samuel Barber is noted for his lyrical, elegiac, expressive musical language, full of long-lined melodies, flavoured with modernism whilst preserving a connection with the 19th century. He was one of the most widely performed American composers in Europe and the Americas during the 20th century. As the prolific 20th century music critic Donal Henehan put it: "Probably no other American composer has ever enjoyed such early, such persistent and such long-lasting acclaim."
Barber was born in 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania to a well-educated family. His father was a physician and his mother a pianist. It was through his aunt and uncle that he received his earliest musical influences: his aunt Louise Homer was a leading contralto in the Metropolitan Opera. Through his aunt, he had access to an abundant supply of vocal repertoire. His uncle Sidney Homer was a composer and was a great mentor for Barber for over 25 years, strongly influencing the young composer’s aesthetic principles. Barber developed a profound interest in music and displayed great skill and ability at the piano from the age of 6. He composed his first piece aged 7, entitled Sadness, a 23-bar solo piano piece in C minor. He attempted to compose his first opera, The Rose Tree at the age of 10. When he was 14 he entered the newly established Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied piano, composition and singing, and showed prodigious talent in all three disciplines. He was a highly respected student at the institute and its founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok provided him with financial aid and introduced him to his future publishers, the Schirmer family. It was during his teenage years at the Curtis Institute that Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti, his lifelong partner.