Adagio for Strings


Something for the weekend.  Composed by Samuel Barber in 1936 as the second movement in his String Quartet, Op. 11, the Adagio for Strings seems appropriate for the weekend before we observe the thirteenth anniversary of 9-11.  The piece always conveys to me sadness mingled with elements of hope.  As we survey the march of the jihadists in the Middle East today I confess that I find it easier to hear the sadness in the piece rather than the hope.  However, God often gives evil a moment to strut about on the stages of our lives, and to seem unbeatable and inevitable, often just before it is beaten and left to join the terrors of the past.  Whether the present calamities will play out in that fashion is, as always, entirely up to the actions each of us take as we play out our lives and destinies.

More to explorer


  1. Donald,

    Exquisitely beautiful, especially given the current events in our world and the approaching anniversary of 9/11.

    Are you a Tolkien fan?

    In his ‘prequel’, “The Silmarillon”,[actually a series of separate narratives edited and joined together by his son, Christopher] Tolkien gives us another “Genesis” account for “Middle Earth”. In the beginning, Eru [“The One”], also known as Illuvatar [“All-Father”] first creates the Ainur (angelic beings), “offspring of His thought”. The greatest of these Ainur is Melkor to whom Illuvatar has given the greatest power and knowledge.

    Illuvatar brings together all His Ainur and reveals to them a ‘theme’ from which He gave them the commission to make great music-to make a cosmic symphony. Melkor however, in his pride seeks to establish his own song, counter to his fellow Ainur and against the theme of Illuvatar. Some Ainur join him while others continue faithful with and to Illuvatar. This produces disharmony into the cosmic symphony.

    Melkor does this three times, and each time Illuvatar overpowers the carcophany and disharmony of Melkor with a new theme which swallows up Melkor’s dissonance. This was ‘the beginning’ of the Middle Earth epic.

    Tolkien was no romantic. He had been a soldier in the Great (WWI) War and had seen the killing fields of Flanders and the insanity of Gallipoli. He had seen the mechanization of war totally transform a reality that was already sad and gruesome; he saw what happens when men’s hearts fail, science goes awry and insanity is taken for sanity. He also knew that the world of man, which Middle Earth imaged was indeed split between good and evil but that the split ran right down the middle of each man’s heart

    Yet throughout his writings his Catholic faith nourished him, inspired him and gave him a sense of real hope-which is very different than shallow optimism. He knew the God’s cosmic symphony would swallow up the evil, the dissonance, the carcophany, the insanity and absurdness, not because Frodo climbed Mount Doom and was able to destroy the Ring, but because Jesus Christ climbed the hill of Golgotha, the hill of the skull, and dying destroyed death and sin and rising restored us to life eternal.

    The last sound of the universe of man will not be a ‘bang’ or a ‘whimper’ but “Alleluia, worthy is the Lamb that was slain….Behold I make all things new!” and a great resounding “Amen”

  2. This played for days on our local news channels during the Kennedy assignation. I was 15 and I never forgot it.

  3. I would rather call myself a close reader of Tolkien since his fan base tends to go to extremes. I have long thought that one of the keys to understanding Tolkien is his service in World War I. As he noted, by 1918 all but one of his close friends died fighting in the War. He came out of the War with a deep hatred of war and an understanding that there are worse things than war:

    ‘We will have peace,’ said Théoden at last thickly and with an effort. Several of the Riders cried out gladly. Théoden held up his hand. ‘Yes, we will have peace,’ he said, now in a clear voice, ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished – and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar. Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired – even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Háma’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: