Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

String teary Sa­muel Bar­ber’s Ada­gio for Strings was com­posed in 1935 as a move­ment of the com­poser’s String Quar­tet, but it achieved greater fame in the com­poser’s own ar­range­ment for string or­ches­tra, which was cham­pi­oned early on by con­duc­tor Ar­turo Toscanini. It wasn’t long be­fore it be­came pi­geon­holed as the all but oblig­a­tory piece to be played on oc­ca­sions of na­tional mourn­ing. The San Diego-based writer Thomas Lar­son shines his spot­light on this com­po­si­tion in The Sad­dest Mu­sic Ever Writ­ten, pub­lished by Pe­ga­sus Books. A res­i­dent of Santa Fe some decades ago and an arts writer for The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can from 1980 to 1982, Lar­son has pre­vi­ously turned his au­tho­rial at­ten­tion to the art of the mem­oir. The Sad­dest Mu­sic Ever Writ­ten is per­haps best ap­proached as an ex­am­ple of that genre, though one that reaches, with spec­u­la­tive speci­ficity, to imag­ine how his par­ents and grand­mother must have re­acted to this mu­sic on his­toric oc­ca­sions at which it was heard and how it must have re­flected as­pects of their lives. These rem­i­nis­cences are in­ter­spersed with a re­count­ing of Bar­ber’s life and of ob­ser­va­tions about the Ada­gio’s his­tory and its mu­si­cal con­tent, as well as sec­tions in which Lar­son lays down guide­lines about how one ought to write about mu­sic and how the Ada­gio ought to be played. He en­joys draw­ing up lists: movies that use the Ada­gio as a sound­track, com­posers who have writ­ten for string or­ches­tra, other pieces that qual­ify as sad (if not as sad as Bar­ber’s). In cast­ing his book as a “hy­brid nar­ra­tive,” Lar­son al­lows him­self free rein in terms of struc­ture and style. The tone of his writ­ing is ver­nac­u­lar and talk­a­tive, and that as­pect of it will prob­a­bly come off well when he presents a read­ing at 6 p.m. on Fri­day, Oct. 8 at Col­lected Works Book­store (202 Gal­is­teo St., 988-4226).

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