‘Knoxville, Summer of 1915’, is, apart from Adagio, perhaps the best-known work by the American tone poet Samuel Barber, who is still being blatantly and infamously neglected in the Netherlands.
Barber composed the piece after James Agee’s prose poem in 1947, when his father was on his deathbed. The nostalgia and wistfulness, the longing for the old days, for the time when you were a child and everything was taken for granted, all that immediately appealed to him. But there was more. Agee, who was more or less a peer of Barber’s, wrote the poem in memory of his own father who had died in a car accident in 1916, after which the family left Knoxville, never to return.
‘Knoxville, Summer of 1915’ was first performed by Eleanor Steber in 1948, after which the song would remain attached to her name for a long time, despite renditions – brilliant at times – by many leading sopranos such as Leontyne Price, Dawn Upshaw and Roberta Alexander.
Renée Fleming also has included the song in her repertoire. She recorded it in 2016 for Decca, with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchest onder hun Finse dirigent Sakari Oram