Pietro Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana

The opera Cavalleria rusticana is musically gorgeous, dramatically gripping, slyly inventive, and historically significant. “It was like a door that suddenly blew open onto a sealed room. A fresh, cool wind from the country blew away the faint smell of mildew,” remembered one Italian critic.

Samuel Barber: Second Essay for Orchestra

Samuel Barber is perhaps our only orchestral essayist: he wrote three between 1937 and 1978. The Second Essay is his peak Jimmy Stewart-era entry, written in 1942. It develops personal convictions into a common-sense argument, and then an impassioned speech. It suggests a kind of civic-minded idealism without an ounce of jingoism.