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Title: Adams HARMONIELEHRE, Author: ScoresOnDemand, Name: Adams HARMONIELEHRE, Length: pages, Page: 1, Published. John Adams, Edo de Waart, San Francisco Symphony – Adams: Harmonielehre – Music. The home of Classical Music. All information about John Adams at a glance and a click. Videos, Photos, CDs, DVDs, BluRays, Tickets, Tourdaten, Merchandise.

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It’s not even called a symphony, I hear you cry! Well, maybe, but John Adams’s Harmonielehre is, as I will now attempt to argue, one of the most significant and sophisticated commentaries on and embodiments of symphonic thinking of the late 20th century. For a start, it’s cast in three large movements, it includes references and reimaginations of Mahler, Sibelius, and Wagner, and for all its diversity of soundworld and musical material, it creates a single musical and dramatic arc in its 40 minutes that is definitively symphonic.

Adams: Harmonielehre by John Adams on Spotify

And just because something isn’t called a “symphony” doesn’t mean it isn’t one! Adams’s title comes from Schoenberg’s great harmony textbookharmojielehre essential musical tome that gives you the keys not to a theory of composition-withtones Schoenberg’s serialism in other wordsbut to tonal harmonic practice from Palestrina to Bruckner. In a way, it’s a book that’s proof positive of one of Schoenberg’s maxims, that there’s still a lot of great music to be written in Harmonieleure major.

Adams’s piece is an attempt to do just that well, in E minor and E flat major…yet as well as its passages that are clear love-songs to symphonic and Wagnerian late-romanticism, his Harmonielehre “Harmony Lesson”, composed in when Adams was in adamx late 30sis full of surreal dreams and harmoinelehre rhythms, glitter, and energy. It opens with a battering ram of E minor chords. Actually, that’s not quite the right image: Watching this sea-borne behemoth, Adams dreamt that it suddenly took off “like a rocket ship with an enormous force of levitation”.


The next morning, Adams conceived the opening of the piece, the explosive propellant for his own symphonic rocket, which was a commission from the San Francisco Symphony for a large-scale work. Until the dream, Adams was in the throes of writer’s block, hwrmonielehre scarring experience that xdams slow second movement, The Anfortas Wound, commemorates and transcends: Adams makes clear references to the emotionally bleak opening of Sibelius’s 4th Symphony at the start of the movementand its climax is a rewriting of the terrifying chord that screams out in pain in the Adagio of Mahler’s 10th Symphony.

Harmonielehre – Wikipedia

Adqms are two other catalysts for the composition of Harmonielehre. There was another dream, of Adams’s infant daughter careering round the cosmos on the back of a flying medieval theologian, Meister Eckhardt, which inspired the ethereal music that opens the third movement. The other was the epiphany of Adams’s relationship with late romanticism, and especially Wagner. In the context of the West Coast of America in the late s and early 80s, Wagner was as uncool as it got.

Adams’s reputation as a young composer was founded on the way he had taken the example of Steve Reich and Philip Glass’s as the inspiration for his own resuscitation of tonality, most notably in Shaker Loops and the ecstatic choral writing of Harmonium.

Symphony guide: John Adams’s Harmonielehre

But the prospect of a properly symphonic canvas to work on presented a new challenge: It was desire itself. The emotional and sensual power it possessed was inescapable.

Achieving that in Harmonielehre meant, for Adams, aping the style and manners of late romantic music, and not just through quasi-quotations. Listen to music like the achingly expressive lyrical theme at the centre of the first movement, which apart from the post-minimalist filigree of some of its orchestral decoration, sounds like a theme culled from Mahler’s or Zemlinsky’s or the romantic Schoenberg’s workshop, circa But the atmosphere of the music’s relationship with these earlier traditions is never cool, detached, or distancing.


As Adams himself says, “This is a work that looks to the past in what I suspect is a ‘postmodernist’ spirit, but … it does so entirely without irony.

And through all the craft – the artifice, if you will – of his composition, I think he manages it: It’s the same at the end of the piece, in which Adams stages an epic battle between the work’s main keys. As he says, “in a more traditionally worked-out piece, there would be a modulatory sequence that would present the outcome in a rather dialectical way.

But in this case, I simply place the keys together, as if in a mixer, and let them battle it out. And finally E-flat wins through its strength, and this moment seems like an epiphany.

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