Thomas Larson is the author of The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings, Pegasus Books, (from which “The Pietà of Music” is excerpted) and The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative, Ohio University Press/Swallow Press. He holds memoir writing workshops and lectures on memoir and Samuel Barber throughout the United States. 
Sep 01 2010
The Saddest Music Ever Written: Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings
Barber’s Adagio is the Pietá of music. It captures the sorrow and the pity of tragic death: listening to it, we are Mother Mary, come alive-holding the lifeless Christ on our laps, one arm bracing the slumped head, the other offering him to the ages. The Adagio is a sound shrine to music’s power to evoke emotion. Its elegiac descent is among the most moving expressions of grief in any art. The snail-like tempo, the constrained melodic line, its rise and fall, the periodic rests, the harmonic repetition, the harmonic color, the uphill slog, the climactic moment of its peaked eruption-all are crafted together into one magnificent effect: listeners, weeping in anguish, bear the glory and gravity of their grief. No sadder music has ever been written.