Celebration of Composer Samuel Barber at State Museum 

Arts & Entertainment

The Tennessee State Museum, in partnership with Nashville Opera, will present a free performance for voice and piano of American composer Samuel Barber’s 1947 classic, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” in the Grand Hall of the Museum on Sunday, July 7, at 2 p.m. 

The composition, based on James Agee’s 1938 prose poem of the same name, will help mark the final day of the Museum exhibition, Between the Layers: Art and Story in Tennessee Quilts. An excerpt of Agee’s piece appears in the exhibition. 

“On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there … They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near.” — James Agee, “Knoxville: Summer of 1915”

“Agee is one of Tennessee’s most significant writers,” said Ashley Howell, the Museum’s executive director. “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” is a beautiful, lyrical piece, and one we knew would be perfect to complement the exhibition. Barber, in his own words, turns it in a “lyric rhapsody” that is sure to inspire delight for our visitors in the Grand Hall and be an apt way to close out this wonderful exhibition.”

Agee’s work, originally written in 1938, serves as the preamble to his 1957 novel, A Death in the Family. Published posthumously after his death in 1955 at age 45, the book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1958. 

Barber’s music was championed by a remarkable range of renowned artists, musicians, and conductors, according to his bio at G. Schirmer, including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Martha Graham, Arturo Toscanini, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Jennie Tourel, and Eleanor Steber. His “Antony and Cleopatra” was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the American Prix de Rome, two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  

The Tennessee State Museum, on the corner of Rosa L. Parks Blvd. and Jefferson Street, is free and open to the public. For more information, go to <tnmuseum.org>.