Private Project

Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty

Known for his mournful "Adagio for Strings," Samuel Barber was never quite fashionable. This acclaimed film is a probing exploration of his music and melancholia. Performance, oral history, musicology, and biography combine to explore the life and music of one of America’s greatest composers. Featuring Thomas Hampson, Leonard Slatkin, Marin Alsop and many more of the world's leading experts on Barber's music, with tributes from composers Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson and William Schuman.

The Philadelphia Inquirer acclaimed the film's "great visual polish," adding that the "extremely impressive array much visual evidence is astounding." Composition:Today called it a "remarkable success that rewrites the rules of documentary filmmaking," and MusicWeb International wrote: "This lavishly illustrated documentary...proclaims the meticulous labour, inspiration and persuasive powers of H. Paul Moon and his subject: the life and music of Samuel Barber. This a bejewelled production…that steers a rewarding course between moving things along yet staying still long enough to inform, surprise and please."

"Samuel Barber: Absolute Beauty" has screened in several film festivals worldwide, and received its limited broadcast premiere on WHYY-TV (Philadelphia PBS) on July 15, 2017.

  • H. Paul Moon
  • Barbara Heyman
    Consulting Producer
  • Pierre Brévignon
    Consulting Producer
  • Thomas Hampson
    Key Cast
  • Leonard Slatkin
    Key Cast
  • Marin Alsop
    Key Cast
  • John Corigliano
    Key Cast
  • Samuel Barber
  • Project Type:
  • Genres:
    Classical Music, Biography
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 42 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    March 23, 2017
  • Production Budget:
    50,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    France, United States
  • Language:
    English, Samoan
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • SEE THE SOUND Film Festival
    August 27, 2016
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Muvi International Music Film Festival
    December 3, 2016
    Portugal Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Classical Arts Film Festival
    Napa, California
    United States
    February 10, 2017
    North American Premiere
    Official Selection
  • The Phillips Collection
    Washington, D.C.
    United States
    March 23, 2017
    East Coast Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Frederick Film Festival
    Frederick, Maryland
    United States
    June 25, 2017
    Maryland Premiere
    Official Selection
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    United States
    July 15, 2017
    World Broadcast Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Eau Claire World Film Festival
    Eau Claire, Wisconsin
    United States
    October 1, 2017
    Wisconsin Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Queen City Film Festival
    Cumberland, Maryland
    United States
    October 8, 2017
    Cumberland Premiere
    Best Music Film
  • Royal Starr Film Festival
    Royal Oak, Michigan
    United States
    October 14, 2017
    Michigan Premiere
    Best Director
  • Cape Town International Film Festival
    Cape Town
    South Africa
    October 21, 2017
    Africa Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Plebeian International Film Festival
    San Diego, California
    United States
    November 5, 2017
    Southern California Premiere
    Best Documentary Feature
  • ReadingFilmFEST
    Reading, Pennsylvania
    United States
    November 3, 2018
    Official Selection
  • Nederland Film Festival
    Nederland, Colorado
    United States
    November 18, 2018
    Colorado Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Festival of Time Des Histoires
    Edmonton, Alberta
    January 5, 2019
    Canada Premiere
    Official Selection
    St. Louis, Missouri
    United States
    February 24, 2019
    Midwest Broadcast Premiere
Director Biography - H. Paul Moon

H. Paul Moon ( is a filmmaker based in Washington, D.C. focusing on music and visual art profiles. He also creates experimental films of cities, landscapes and contemporary dance. He teaches documentary editing at George Mason University, and manages a network of online communities at that keeps pace with new camera technologies. His body of work includes short and feature-length documentaries, dance films, and experimental cinema, regularly featured at film festivals worldwide. He worked as a small camera specialist for a Paramount feature film starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, and as cinematographer for director Josephine Decker’s film in "collective:unconscious" that debuted at the South by Southwest Festival. Recent films include "Sitka: A Piano Documentary" ( about the craftsmanship of Steinway pianos, and "Quartet for the End of Time" ( about Olivier Messiaen’s transcendent composition, that premiered on the commemorative date and at the place where the imprisoned composer debuted his work. Moon's latest film, a feature-length documentary about the life and music of American composer Samuel Barber (, recently premiered on PBS, and he is currently finishing another documentary feature about Western folklife, cowboy poetry, and the American frontier (

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Director Statement

Samuel Barber has always been my favorite composer. It starts there, but the bigger reason for this film is to make up for neglect. Independent cinema has a scarcity of documentaries about classical music, and the audience’s hunger for them is underestimated. Also, Barber’s oeuvre has been overshadowed by his Adagio for Strings, popularized widely by Oliver Stone’s relentless use of it in Platoon. The Adagio has also served as a memorial work at historic moments of grieving, from the deaths of FDR and JFK, to the tragedy of 9/11. But Barber wrote so much more, ranging from innocence to violence. Thinking about his whole life and music, major 20th Century themes converge: loss of faith, modernism battling emotionality and tradition in music, and a gay underground of classical musicians and composers whose sexuality could never attach to their public identities.

Documentaries about popular music can be accused of navel-gazing, but when we immerse into a performance of classical music, it is usually formal and from a distance. My artistic objective firstly was to celebrate the physicality of classical musicians when they perform the music of Barber. Meticulous, complex, and absorbed into the melancholy, a great performance communicates more than words. Resisting a narrator, I structured the film from Barber’s opuses in strict chronological order, finding biographical clues in the music to tell the story of his life in a non-linear narrative. While committing mainly to be a work of art, this film’s core is research and biographical accuracy, up to the standards of academic dissertation. Barber’s family estate, his biographers, his alma mater, and his famous advocates, have been enthusiastic supporters of the project. Now that it’s ready, I invite you to join this first-ever documentary celebration of the life and music of Samuel Barber.