This piece was Barber’s only woodwind quintet. It consists of a single movement and showcases each instrument of the wind quintet, namely flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. Summer Music’s opening melody is derived from Barber’s earlier, unpublished orchestral work, “Horizon”. The opening phrase is Debussy-esque, with a slithery duet in the bassoon and the horn. The constantly changing time signatures also evokes a dreamy, rhythmic vagueness to the music.
The opening chromatic triplet-duple-triple motif is a key rhythmic motif throughout the piece. The tempo picks up as the oboe (Barber’s favourite wind instrument) introduces a theme similar to the opening melody. Suddenly, the instruments engage in a long, rapid, chattering, and cackling passage of mostly sixteenth notes. Then, the oboe regains control of the proceeding, singing its melody over an uneasy, inhaling-exhaling figure of the other instruments, notably the horn.
The opening theme returns, sliding from one instrument to another. Next, the oboe introduces a quick, exotic, folk-like theme that passes through the ensemble. Soon, the pacing slows down, and the opening theme reintroduces itself. Almost immediately, the music becomes more animated and intense, but it soon recedes into a slow, conversational passage. A quick, brief coda spins the work’s principal thematic fragments into each other, with the bluesy opening returning at the quintet’s close, mixed with short echoes of other sections.