5 Fascinating Facts about Barber’s Adagio for Strings

Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is one of the most popular pieces of (classical) music ever written. But do you know these five fascinating facts about the piece?

1. The Adagio for Strings was originally written for string quartet

The Adagio for Strings was originally part of composer Samuel Barber’s first string quartet, written in 1936. He later arranged the piece for a seven-part string orchestra on the request of conductor Arturo Toscanini. The version we know today was premiered in 1938 by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Composer Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings
Composer Samuel Barber

2. Barber’s Agnus Dei is a choral version of the Adagio

In 1967, Barber published a choral version of the Adagio. This version is almost identical to the original, but with added text from the “Agnus Dei,” or “Lamb of God,” of the Catholic Mass. In the choral version, the piece ends with the words “dona nobis pacem,” or “grant us peace.”

3. Samuel Barber was only 26 when he wrote the Adagio for Strings

While Barber’s Adagio is one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written, most audiences don’t know that this profound work was written when the composer was only 26 years old! The arrangement we know today was premiered two years later, when Barber was 28.

Young Samuel Barber
Young Samuel Barber

4. Barber’s Adagio has been adopted by DJs and composers of Trance music

Barber’s rolling melody and its unique harmonic structure have made the Adagio a popular piece among composers of Electronic Dance and Trance music. Most notably, a remix by Dutch DJ Tiësto has garnered over 100 million streams on youtube since its release in 2008. Other versions by William Orbit and Armin van Buuren are equally as popular.

Adagio for Strings remix by Tiësto

5. Adagio for Strings is Barber’s most popular piece

According to Spotify, Barber’s five most popular pieces are:

1. Adagio for Strings,

2. Adagio for Strings,

3. Adagio for Strings,

4. Agnus Dei (the choral version of the Adagio),

and 5. (you guessed it) Adagio for Strings.

Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings on Spotify
Samuel Barber on Spotify

Read more about the Adagio on our program notes archive.