John Adams: Music Analysis

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American composer, John Adams, has produced some of modern music’s most successful works. In this paper, we will be focusing on Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls for orchestra, chorus, and pre-recorded material composed in 2002. This piece is approximately twenty-five minutes long; however, we will be focusing on several excerpts that highlight techniques discussed in Theory IV. These techniques include the characteristics of minimalism, quarter-tone notation, and the use of pre-recorded material. We will identify these techniques by including excerpt visuals, time markings, and an aural score. Before getting into the fine details of this composition, let us begin with a brief history of the events that inspired On the Transmigration of…show more content…
In this case, John Adams uses quarter-tones among three violin parts from measures 85-104—see figures 2.1-2.3. The intention behind these quartertones is to create a rich dissonance. These quartertones are introduced as the chorus transitions from singing text to singing “ooo’s” as if to allow the orchestra to continue the story. This technique creates a unique quality of sound that further constitutes the sensation of loss. The aural score to “On The Transmigration of Souls by John Adams, describes the excerpt from 5:30 to 9:10 in the piece. The piece uses mostly orchestral instruments but also includes spoken words likely played from a tape recorder or other recording device. Recorded footsteps are also used throughout the piece, but in this excerpt they appear near the end. Beginning the excerpt are choral sounds along with violins creating more high-pitched sounds to start off. Both strings and voices take a soft volume and decrescendo before they drop out. The sound of church bells is faint in the background accenting certain pitches while the choral sounds and violins act as melody. Around 5:52 seconds spoken words can be heard softly under the accompanying instruments. These voices speak of people lost in the 9/11 attack and if you listen closely names are being spoken by loved ones as a…show more content…
Music has a singular capacity to unlock those controls and bring us face to face with our raw, uncensored and unattenuated feelings. That is why during times when we are grieving or in need of being in touch with the core of our beings, we seek out those pieces that speak to us with that sense of gravitas and serenity,” (Beethoven's Ninth: On the Transmigration of Souls). The common listener may not be able to identify the elements of minimalism, the use of microtones, or electronic elements let alone understand it’s importance. However, through the close analysis of On the Transmigration of Souls, we find a deeper understanding of the unique talents of John Adams’ as well as a deeper appreciation for the healing power of

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