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Adams: Harmonielehre

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Audio CD, October 25, 1990
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$16.90 $3.68

Editorial Reviews

Of the music by the four reigning minimalists in this country (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley are the others), that of John Adams is perhaps the simplest, constructed on punctuated--and percussive--chords riding above coherent melodies. This is probably why Adams has had such success with his two operas. Harmonielehre is a sustained orchestral piece in three sections--triptychs framing a slow second movement of unusual somberness, given the gaiety of the opening section. Part III, called "Meister Eckhardt and Quackie", is a sprightly fairy tale of shimmering, glissando-like textures underscored by a dignified flowing melody. --Paul Cook


Harmoniehlehre is a virtual compendium of Adams' early high-minimalist style, it also marks a transition point as the music exhibits an expansiveness and breadth while retaining his trademark energy and insistent rock-flavored riffs. -- Miami Herald, Lawrence Johnson, July 1st, 2007

1. Harmonielehre: Part I - John Adams
2. Harmonielehre: Part II, The Anfortas Wound - John Adams
3. Harmonielehre: Part III, Meister Eckhardt And Quackie - John Adams

Product Details

  • Orchestra: San Francisco Symphony
  • Conductor: Edo de Waart
  • Composer: John Adams
  • Audio CD (October 25, 1990)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch / Elektra
  • ASIN: B000005IXN
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,168 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 2001
Format: Audio CD
I have had this CD since it came out in the late 1980's. Almost 15 years and hundreds of CD's later, it still is one of the joys in my collection. Its a musical cocktail of minimalism, Sibelius, Bruckner and Wagner.
The first movement is a sonic portrait of (Adam's description of a dream he had) "a huge tanker in the San Francisco Bay that suddenly takes off like a rocket out of the water with an enormous force of levitation". For those of you familiar with Sibelius, I find obvious parallels with the first movement of the 5th symphony.
The second movement (The Anfortas Wound) is a slow, deeply emotional piece that echos Wagner's Parsifal. Per Adams, it is "a piece about sickness and infirmity, both physical and spiritual".
The third movement is a struggle out of darkness back into the light. Again, the sound world resembles sibelius with the arc of bruckner.
While I have collected most of Adams works since this purchase, this remains my favorite work of his (El Dorado is a close 2nd). Of the two commercial recordings, this performance by Edo De Waart and the San Francisco Symphony is to be preferred to Simon Rattles later version. Rattle over romanticises the piece. De Waart and the SFS provide a more modern interpretation with a leaner orchestra sound that provides much more clarity.
Highly recommended - One of the best orchestra works to come out of the 2nd half of the 20th century.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 1, 2006
Format: Audio CD
John Adams is now part of the mainstream of classical music and his newer compositions, married in part to social commentary such as the magnificent 'On the Transmigration of Souls' in tribute to 911, 'El Nino' with its bow to the Hispanic heritage, and of course the obvious - his operas 'Nixon in China', 'The Death of Klinghofer', and 'Doctor Atomic'- gain widespread coverage in the media and rightly so. But now and then it is refreshing to return to some of his purely orchestral works such as the splendid 1981 'Harmonium' and the brilliant 'Harmonielehre' here recorded shortly after its premiere in 1985.

'Harmonielehre' is a mature work, a purely orchestra fabric in which Adams is in full control of his very original musical language. That 'language' is the massive pulsation of single chords that moves subtly in context with various additions and subtractions of instrumental choirs, changing tonal colors and rhythms in a manner that sweeps the work along never allowing a moment of static position so often prevalent in some so-called minimalist music. The work is divided into three parts. Part I is 'like a tanker taking off', a driving almost brutal force. Part II 'The Amfortas Wound' is one of the most serenely beautiful movements has written, an evocation of Wagner's tragedy within 'Parsifal'. Part III 'Meister Eckhardt and Quackie' is the climatic 'harmonic struggle among different tonalities vying for dominance'.

Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Orchestra have captured as honest and straight forward a perfomance of this mighty work as we are likely to hear. The recorded sound (from SFOs Davies Hall) in 1985. There is a spaciousness to the recording perhaps in part due to the fact that the CD has no accompanying works. This is the gold standard recording for Adams' important 'Harmonielehre' (translated means Harmony Lesson) and it is a complete success. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, March 06
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Harmonielehre. Elektra. 1985. San Francisco Symph. Edo De Wart, cond.

Gnarly Buttons. John’s Book of Alleged Dances. Nonesuch. 1998 London Sinfonietta. JA, cond; Michael Collins, clari. Kronos Quartet

Naïve and Sentimental Music. Nonesuch. 2002. Los Angeles Philharmonic. Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.

Complete Piano Music. Naxos. 2006. Ralph van Raat, Maarten van Veen, p.

Filled with shame at my slothfulness, at age seventy-seven going on seventy-eight, I finally resolved to tackle the music of American minimalist (of sorts) composer John Adams. The result was mixed.

I picked up four albums. Two were of symphonic tone poems –Harmonielehre (recorded in 1985) and Naïve and Sentimental Music (2002). I found this large group music boring for the most part. Parts of Harmonielehre weren’t bad but I will never listen to Naïve and Sentimental Music again. I’ve listened to a lot of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, some Terry Riley and a little Morton Feldman --does he qualify as a minimalist? His music is certainly minimalist in the effect it creates—but I’m not an expert on this music. Adams’s blending of late nineteenth-century Romantic and late-twentieth century minimalist on these two albums just didn’t make it for me.

The other two albums were a different story altogether. I liked and admired them both, but especially Gnarly Buttons/John’s Book of Alleged Dances. Buttons consists of three pieces played by an idiosyncratic ensemble of two violins, a viola, a cello and a string bass, and a sixth string alternating among banjo, mandolin and guitar, plus English horn, bassoon, trombone and solo clarinet. Even better is John’s Book, eleven made up, kind-of-old-style dance pieces played by the ever excellent Kronos Quartet.
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