Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


School of Music

First Advisor

Scott Weiss


Samuel Barber (1910–1981) was an American composer who lived and worked during the twentieth-century. His list of works includes forty-eight published pieces that span virtually every major genre of western art music. One of Barber’s most unique contributions is the invention of a new orchestral genre: the essay for orchestra. Borrowing the term from literature, Barber is credited with composing the first musical essays. Today, musical essays are understood to be single-movement instrumental works that are non-programmatic in nature.

Barber composed three essays for orchestra during his lifetime. His First Essay, Op. 12, was composed in 1937; his Second Essay, Op. 17 was composed in 1942; and his Third Essay, Op. 47 (his last completed work), was composed in 1978. While each of his orchestral essays have been examined, a detailed analysis of his Third Essay has remained absent in the literature. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study is to provide an original theoretical analysis of the Third Essay that considers formal, thematic, and structural relationships in unprecedented detail. A secondary purpose is to compare this new analysis to preexisting analyses of the First and Second essays. After examining these works concurrently, this study suggests that while all three essays feature similar two-part and coda designs, they each contain thematic and structural idiosyncrasies that make then unique.


© 2023, David Abrams Gordon