Platoon: Soundtrack–Adagio for String, Platoon’s theme, composed by Samuel Barber


Adagio for Strings: Platoon’s theme, composed by Samuel Barber.

The film score was by Georges Delerue.

Music used in the film includes Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.

Other include “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, and “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard, which is an anachronism, as the film is set in 1967 but Haggard’s song was not released until 1969.

During a scene in the “Underworld”, the soldiers sing along to “The Tracks of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, which was also featured in the film’s trailer.

The soundtrack includes “Groovin'” by The Rascals and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding.

For many, it was its use in the film Platoon. For others, it was William Orbit’s Pieces in a Modern Style project.

But few can claim to have first experienced Barber’s Adagio for Strings in its original form, as part of a string quartet.

The American composer wrote his string Quartet Opus 11, in 1936 (age 26), and liked the result.

However, he had one of the twentieth-century’s greatest conductors to thank for what became a new and far more profitable life for this relatively unknown piece.

Arturo Toscanini spotted a hit when he heard its second movement, and urged Barber to arrange it for full string orchestra. The composer took the advice, and in 1938, Toscanini premiered the new work with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Millions of Americans were listening as it was broadcast on the radio, and Adagio for Strings quickly became a huge success.

The solemn, heart-wrenching sadness of the music has lent itself to a range of powerful uses beyond the concert hall.

Adagio for Strings was played at the funeral of Albert Einstein.

It can be heard on commercials and movie soundtracks, and has become a modern day hit among various music lovers, who have taken the hypnotic harmonies composed by Barber and used them to create very different, high-octane sounds.

The composer also arranged choral version of the work, the Agnus Dei, in 1967.

Alexander J. Morin, author of Classical Music: The Listener’s Companion (2001), said the piece was “full of pathos and cathartic passion” and that it “rarely leaves a dry eye.”

Reviewing the premiere performance in 1938, Olin Downes noted that with the piece, Barber “achieved something as perfect in mass and detail as his craftsmanship permits.”

In edition of A Conductor’s Analysis of Selected Works, John William Mueller devoted over 20 pages to Adagio for Strings.

Wayne Clifford Wentzel, author of Samuel Barber: A Research and Information Guide (Composer Resource Manuals), said that it was a piece usually selected for closing act because it was moderately famous.

The musicologist Bill McGlaughlin compares its role in American music to the role that Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” holds for the British.

In 2000, NPR named Adagio for Strings one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century, calling it “standard repertoire for today’s orchestras, and Barber’s best-known work.”

In 2004, listeners of the BBC Radio’s Today program voted Adagio for Strings the “saddest classical” work ever, ahead of “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s 5th symphony, Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, and Gloomy Sunday as sung by Billie Holiday.