Spring Session 2: “Sure On This Shining Night”

Samuel Barber was a prolific song composer, having written over 100 works for voice and piano, the majority of which still remain unpublished. Of the published songs, Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night” (from Four Songs, op. 13) is widely considered as one of the composer’s most famous contributions to the genre. Quintessential Barber with its lyrical lines, “Sure on this Shining Night” has become one of the most frequently programmed songs both in the United States and Europe.

“Sure on this Shining Night” is the third song in the collection entitled Four Songs which was published by G. Schirmer in 1940. Unlike his earlier collection of Three Songs, op. 10, in which all three songs are set to poetry by James Joyce, Barber’s Four Songs, op. 13 features the texts of four different poets. The text for “Sure on this Shining Night” was based on an untitled lyric from James Agee’s first published collection of poems, Permit Me Voyage (1934). Barber eventually met and formed a lasting friendship with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, but it was not until after he set Agee’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in 1948.

The brilliance of “Sure on this Shining Night” lies in its long, seamlessly lyrical canonical lines, initiated by the voice and followed immediately by the piano. The song’s structure resembles that of songs crafted by 19th-century masters such as Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, especially in the dexterous use of canonic principals (in which Brahms excelled) and in the use of the pulsating chordal-style accompaniment, as found in Schmann’s “Ich grolle nicht” (from Dichterliebe, 1840). 

Source: Library of Congress, loc.gov