John Adams: An American Treasure

In 1987, John Adams composed Nixon in China, a work that has been called the greatest American opera since George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. In 2003, Adams was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music for On the Transmigration of Souls, a piece composed as a tribute to the victims of September 11. In 2009, Adams was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. John Adams is a national treasure.

Music critics sometimes use the word “minimalist” to describe Adams' music, grouping him with two other minimalist composers: Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

If minimalism is defined by its few musical ideas and repetitive, sometimes monotonous, forward motion, I suppose Adams' music could, in some cases, be labeled “minimalist.” However, his music contains much more. According to such writers as H. Wiley Hitchcock and Michael Walsh, Adams bridges the gap between minimalism and more traditional styles of music.
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Adams’ music represents less of a conscious break with the past than either Reich’s or Glass’s; instead [he] draws inspiration from composers like Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius and Stravinsky. His works have a lushness and emotional depth largely absent in the ascetic though fundamentally cheerful sounds of Reich or the giddy, explosive rhythms of Glass.... Adams has forged a big, strong style, expressed in complex forms that employ a more extensive use of dissonance than other minimalists. – Michael Walsh, “The Heart is Back in the Game,” Time, September 20, 1982 (as quoted by H. Wiley Hitchcock in Music in the United States, p. 338)

John Adams, Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986)
Marin Alsop conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra



John Adams, Nixon in China, "News, James Maddalena, Houston Grand Opera (1987)


John Adams, On the Transmigration of Souls
Lorin Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic


While I'm in the midst of writing a blog about a composer named John Adams, I might as well provide a quote about the arts from John Adams, the second president of the United States.

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

– John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, 1780