I’d never heard of the American composer, John Adams, until today, and now it’s obviously time to catch up with the man. He writes operas, symphonic works, chamber music. He conducts. He’s regarded by some as America’s greatest modern composer. He has a sense of humour. He still regards his Grand Pianola Music as music that must have ‘doubtless have seemed like a smirking truant with a dirty face, in need of a severe spanking’ because it crashed across the seriousness and abstractness of much music, where lack of melody and harmony and lack of accessibility were often the norm.
I heard the finale of this piece on the radio today, coming home from the supermarket. It’s a bit like a music group at a Pentecostal church in a praise time, stuck on the same three chords, but happy to be there, and happy to keep hammering away at those three chords because in the midst of it all is an exuberance and life and energy and enthusiasm that’s often missing in the day to day world.
I don’t suppose Adams thinks of it in those terms; in fact, on the radio he claimed the inspiration for it had come from an LSD trip where pianos transformed into stretch limos. His explanation of its origins on his website are somewhat different but has similar imagery. But the pianos are in the music - two of them - as well as three wordless sopranos, various wind and brass instruments and lots of percussion. It’s something I’m going to have to track down on CD, and get to hear properly.