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Dover Beach by Samuel Barber: A Poetic and Musical Masterpiece for Baritone and String Quartet

Samuel Barber Dover Beach Pdf Download: A Guide for Music Lovers

If you are a fan of classical music, you may have heard of Samuel Barber, one of the most prominent American composers of the 20th century. You may also be familiar with his famous work Adagio for Strings, which has been used in many movies and TV shows. But did you know that Barber also wrote a stunning piece for baritone and string quartet based on a poem by Matthew Arnold called Dover Beach? In this article, we will explore the background, the features, and the significance of this masterpiece, and show you how you can download a pdf version of the score and listen to some of the best recordings available online.

Samuel Barber Dover Beach Pdf Download

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Who was Samuel Barber?

Samuel Barber (1910-1981) was an American composer who started composing at a very young age. He studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he met his lifelong partner and fellow composer Gian Carlo Menotti. He won several awards and grants for his compositions, including two Pulitzer Prizes. He wrote music in various genres and styles, such as symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, songs, and chamber music. Some of his most famous works include Adagio for Strings, Vanessa, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, and Dover Beach.

What is Dover Beach?

Dover Beach is a lyric poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888). It was first published in 1867 in the collection New Poems. The poem describes the scene of the shore of the English ferry port of Dover, facing Calais in France, at night. The speaker invites his lover to look at the calm sea and the moonlit cliffs, but then contrasts this peaceful image with the sound of the waves that bring "the eternal note of sadness". He then reflects on how the world has lost its faith and joy, and how human life is full of misery and struggle. He ends by asking his lover to be true to him, as they are the only ones who can give each other love and comfort in this dark world.

How did Barber compose his version of Dover Beach?

Barber composed his version of Dover Beach in 1931, when he was only 21 years old. He was inspired by Arnold's poem, which he had read in college. He decided to set it to music for baritone and string quartet, as he thought that this combination would suit the mood and tone of the poem. He also sang the baritone part himself, as he had a good voice and had received vocal training. He recorded his own setting of Dover Beach for NBC in 1935, accompanying his own singing voice with a string quartet. He later revised the piece slightly in 1954.

Main Body

What are the main features of Barber's Dover Beach?

The text

Barber used the entire text of Arnold's poem, without changing or omitting any words. He divided the poem into four sections, corresponding to the four stanzas of the poem. He also followed the rhyme scheme and the meter of the poem, which is mostly iambic pentameter. He used different techniques to highlight the meaning and the emotion of the words, such as repetition, contrast, word painting, and melisma. For example, he repeated the word "listen" three times in the first section, to draw attention to the sound of the waves. He contrasted the high and low registers of the voice and the strings, to create a sense of distance and closeness. He used word painting to match the music with the imagery of the poem, such as using descending scales for "draw back" and "cease". He used melisma to stretch some words over several notes, such as "sadness" and "love", to emphasize their importance and expressiveness.

The music

Barber used a tonal and modal language for his music, with some chromaticism and dissonance. He used a variety of keys and modes, such as A minor, D major, F major, G minor, and Dorian mode. He also used different tempos and dynamics, ranging from slow and soft to fast and loud. He used a simple and clear form for his music, following the structure of the poem. He also used some motifs and themes to unify the music and create coherence. For example, he used a descending chromatic motif at the beginning and the end of the piece, to create a sense of sadness and finality. He also used a rising motif for "Ah, love", to create a sense of hope and longing.

The performance

Barber's Dover Beach requires a high level of skill and expression from both the singer and the string players. The singer has to sing in a wide range of pitches, from low G to high A. The singer also has to sing with good diction, articulation, phrasing, and intonation, as well as convey the emotion and meaning of the words. The string players have to play with good balance, coordination, intonation, and tone quality, as well as follow the singer's lead and support his voice. The string players also have to play with different techniques, such as pizzicato, tremolo, glissando, harmonics, and sul ponticello.

Why is Barber's Dover Beach important and relevant today?

The historical context

Barber composed his Dover Beach in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe. He recorded it in 1935, just before World War II broke out. He revised it in 1954, during the Cold War and the Korean War. These historical events influenced Barber's interpretation of Arnold's poem, which was written in 1851, after the Industrial Revolution and before World War I. Both Arnold and Barber witnessed social changes and conflicts that threatened their values and beliefs. Both Arnold and Barber expressed their disillusionment and anxiety about the state of the world in their works.

The artistic expression

Barber's Dover Beach is a remarkable example of how music can enhance poetry, and vice versa. Barber's music captures the mood, tone, rhythm, imagery, and message of Arnold's poem. Barber's music also adds new layers of meaning and emotion to Arnold's poem. Barber's music creates a powerful musical experience that engages both the intellect and the emotion of the listener. Barber's Dover Beach is also a testament to his talent and creativity as a composer. Barber's Dover Beach shows his mastery of musical language, form, technique, style, and expression.

The universal message

Barber's Dover Beach is not only relevant to its historical context but also to our contemporary world. Barber's Dover Beach speaks to us today because it addresses universal themes that are still important and meaningful for us: love, faith, hope, despair, beauty, sadness, joy, peace, war. Barber's Dover Beach invites us to reflect on our own condition as human beings living in a complex and changing world. Barber's Dover Beach also challenges us to find our own sources of strength and comfort in times of difficulty and uncertainty.


Summary of the main points

, a masterpiece for baritone and string quartet based on a poem by Matthew Arnold. We have learned about the background, the features, and the significance of this piece, and how you can download a pdf version of the score and listen to some of the best recordings available online. We have seen how Barber's music enhances Arnold's poetry, and how both of them express their views and feelings about the world they lived in. We have also seen how Barber's Dover Beach is still relevant and meaningful for us today, as it touches upon universal themes that we can relate to.

Recommendations for further listening and reading

If you enjoyed Barber's Dover Beach, you may also like some of his other works, such as:

  • Adagio for Strings, a moving piece for string orchestra that has become one of the most popular and recognizable pieces of classical music.

  • Vanessa, an opera in four acts that won Barber his first Pulitzer Prize in 1958.

  • Knoxville: Summer of 1915, a lyrical piece for soprano and orchestra that sets a nostalgic text by James Agee.

You may also like some other pieces that are similar to Dover Beach, such as:

  • On Wenlock Edge, a song cycle for tenor, piano, and string quartet by Ralph Vaughan Williams, based on poems by A.E. Housman.

  • Winter Words, a song cycle for tenor and piano by Benjamin Britten, based on poems by Thomas Hardy.

  • Hermit Songs, a song cycle for soprano and piano by Samuel Barber himself, based on poems by Irish monks from the 8th to the 13th centuries.

If you want to learn more about Barber's Dover Beach, you may also read some of these books and articles:

  • The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, by Thomas Larson, a biography of Barber that also explores his other works, including Dover Beach.

  • Samuel Barber Remembered: A Centenary Tribute, edited by Peter Dickinson, a collection of essays and interviews by Barber's friends, colleagues, and critics.

  • "Dover Beach" Revisited: A Musical Analysis of Samuel Barber's Song for Voice and String Quartet, by Wayne Wentzel, an article that provides a detailed musical analysis of Dover Beach.


  • Q: Where can I download a pdf version of the score of Dover Beach? A: You can download a pdf version of the score of Dover Beach from this website:,_Op.3_(Barber,_Samuel)

Q: Where can I listen to some recordings of Dover Beach? A: You can listen to some recordings of Dover Beach on YouTube, Spotify, or other streaming platforms. Some of the recommended recordings are:

  • Samuel Barber (baritone) and Curtis String Quartet (1935):

  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) and Juilliard String Quartet (1970):

  • Thomas Hampson (baritone) and Emerson String Quartet (1994):

  • Gerald Finley (baritone) and Tokyo String Quartet (2013):

  • Q: What is the meaning of the title Dover Beach? A: The title Dover Beach refers to the location where the poem is set. Dover is a town and port in southeastern England, facing Calais in France across the Strait of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel. The beach at Dover is made of pebbles rather than sand, and the sound of the waves is loud and harsh.

  • Q: What is the theme of Dover Beach? A: The theme of Dover Beach is the loss of faith and joy in the modern world, and the need for love and loyalty in the face of uncertainty and despair. The poem contrasts the beauty and calmness of nature with the sadness and turmoil of human history and society. The poem also expresses the speaker's longing for a simpler and happier time, when people believed in God and had a sense of purpose and harmony.

  • Q: What is the tone of Dover Beach? A: The tone of Dover Beach is melancholic, reflective, and passionate. The speaker uses a mixture of descriptive, rhetorical, and emotional language to convey his feelings and thoughts. The speaker also addresses his lover directly, creating a sense of intimacy and urgency.



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