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Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life [Hardcover]

John Adams
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Oct 2008
John Adams is one of the most admired and performed living composers. A musician of enormous range and technical command, he has built a huge audience worldwide through the immediacy and sincerity of his music. Hallelujah Junction isn't so much an autobiography as a fascinating journey through the musical landscape of his life and times, centred around the three highly controversial operas based on social and political issues he has written in the past twenty-five years - Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer and, most recently, Dr Atomic.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (2 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571231152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571231157
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 424,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'John Adams's Hallelujah Junction radiates a calm, Californian confidence, letting its ideas unfold at a gentle pace. I'm actually describing the piano piece that the American composer wrote in 1977, but I could be talking equally well about this memoir. Adams's unique touch finds its literary analogue in a style of rare precision. Excoriated as the fast-food king of classical music, and hailed as the rescuer of that art from serialist pseudo-science, he here emerges as a storyteller.'
-- Michael Church, Independent

A particular fascination of this book is the winding road on which he absorbed everything while slowly discovering his voice...Adams suggest that Frank Zappa's memoirs stand alongside Berlioz's as "one of the few genuinely original literary works about music"; Hallelujah Junction is in their vicinity.
-- Daily Telegraph, 25 October, 2008

Absorbing, frank and often amusing. -- BBC Music Magazine, October 2008

This new book confirms that Adams is not in the least self-regarding; he is a populist in the most disciplined and widely read sense...this exciting text should turn the reader back to the music. -- Classical Music, October 2008


Absorbing, frank and often amusing.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adams on Adams 17 Feb 2009
By Pensato
An enjoyable and enlightening account of the composer's life. I most enjoyed his evocation of childhood in New England and the descriptions that really brought 70s San Francisco to life in all its giddy excitement, post-hippy cultural exploration.

I thought his comments on elders (Boulez, Ives, etc) illuminating though I am already a sympathiser regarding the cul de sac of atonality. His writing on Cage, Cardew and Harrison demonstrates a real affection but not blind to their limitations.

Adams' writing is always thoughtful but sometimes I wished for a bit more passion. Interestingly this was my criticism of his music on first exposure - wonderful glittering surfaces but real depth? However, on greater acquaintance, I have been really moved by much of his output - Harmonielehre, The Wound Dresser, El Dorado, Gnarly Buttons to name a few - and would now rank him as the most significant composer of his generation. He brings much-needed enjoyment back to this serious business!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for aspiring composers 7 Sep 2013
The most important thing about John Adams' autobiography is that it gives aspiring composers a treasure-trove of crucial insights into how one of the world's most important living composers thinks and creates.

As Adams himself is at pains to show, his evolution into the one-man cultural powerhouse he has become was anything but smooth: several decades of hard work went by and an awful lot of dust had to settle before he started achieving what he really wanted to achieve in music. One of the great pleasures of reading this book is witnessing Adams laughing in hindsight at how most of his major discoveries and innovations as a composer were made accidentally as a result of bone-headed, nave mistakes on his part. Several of his best pieces (even recent ones) were utter disasters at their premières, and only achieved their final form after months and years of "tweaking" in subsequent performances and rehearsals. Where other people would have been discouraged beyond all hope of salvaging them, Adams stuck with pieces he thought were "duds" through thick and thin - and gradually turned them into "aces" in the process.

The book outlines the course of Adams' life in music with tremendous verve and concision, dwelling at length on the most interesting issues while discarding all irrelevancies. To that extent, his prose is very much like his music - a product of his unerring instinct for distinguishing between what is important and what is not. The geneses of several of his most ambitious works (Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic and A Flowering Tree) are rich and complex enough to be given their own chapters.

Remarkably, the whole book adds up to just 326 pages.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An American composer's life 8 Jan 2009
By Actinia
I have always enjoyed John Adam's chamber and orchestral music, though I have never been a fan of vocal music (his or anyone else's). Thus I was keen to read what he had to say about himself. From the first page, I was absorbed. It really did bring out 'an American life' as in the title. He begins with his parents, giving much detail about his family life and that of his parents. This contrasts with the paucity of information he gives on his own family life. Happily for him, he was (fairly) easily able to get to university and get his batchelor's and master's degrees, largely as a result of his ability to earn money as a performer and jobbing musician.

Of course, John Adams recounts the genesis of many of his well-known pieces, especially his operas, with some penetrating insights into the American musical and political contexts. He also includes a number of discourses on the wider musical scene in America, although these sometimes do seem to be interpolations into the narrative.

I did have a few criticisms; there were a few things that I would have liked to have known, but this information was sparse or missing. What sort of money does one get from being a composer? At one point he does say that he gave up his 'day job' to concentrate full-time on composing, and it is clear that he must have made enough to buy a rather nice house. I don't want to see his accounts, but an indication of commission money or royalties would give perspective to a composer's life.

The other aspect he seems to be shy of is his family life. We know he marries his first wife when young, and this lasts around four years, but that is about it. We are introduced to Deborah as his new love interest, then we learn she is pregnant, only later does he refer to her as his wife.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb in Every Way 5 Jan 2009
By George Grella - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
So as not to diminish my thoughts on this book, I should first mention that I am a great lover of Adams' music, and as a composer always interested in what other composers have to write about themselves. That being said, this is a wonderful book in every way. Adams is a graceful and charming writer, and the book runs on several parallel and intertwined courses that are mutually supportive, like elegant counterpoint. He recounts his personal and professional life, and along the way examines himself, his art and the music of other colleagues. His critical evaluation of his own work and that of others is exceptionally clear, well-considered and wise, and his thoughts on what it takes to be a composer, what he feels is the right path, and his own experiences of the difficulties of living as a serious, creative artist in America are sober and courageous. I find myself constantly re-reading passages simply for the pleasure of the insight of his thoughts and his ability to express them.

This is a book for all readers, not just specialists or fans. It's an exceptional autobiography of any kind, of any figure in contemporary American life, and for anyone interested in classical music in general, and the current iterations, this book demands to be read. This will be as essential a part of the literature of music as Adams' own work is an essential part of the history of music itself.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Composer as Storyteller 18 Jan 2010
By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
John Adams' background, rise, and development to perhaps the foremost American classical composer alive is well examined in this autobiography. A fan of his compositions from the outset and having seen many of their performances sometimes with Adams conducting, I find additional resonance with his rich and lively descriptions of nearby locales, characters, musics, and events, since I, just two years his senior, had lived under similar and often the same musical and socio-cultural influences in the Bay Area. Adams' takes on John Cage, early electronica, and Miminalism's Steve Reich and Philip Glass are keen, full of peer insights. Adams acknowledges that he discovered his voice, his own unique compositional style, at age 30 after a long series of avant-garde experimentation. His influences besides classical composers, including Wagner and Ives, were psychedelic rock (e.g., Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrex, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead) as well as jazz greats (e.g., Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane). Adams is a Boomer composer who lived the alternative and experimental musical life. In 1981, his choral symphony "Harmonium" premiered at the inaugural of Davis Symphony Hall of the San Francisco Symphony. It launched him, providing an international reputation and a major record label, Nonesuch. (Later, his "Dharma at Big Sur" celebrated the opening of Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.) His second punch was "Grand Pianola Music", whose conceptual source was an LSD memory of his attending a Rudolf Serkin concert of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto; the keyboard of Serkin's Steinway seemed to be continually expanding.

The early years of Adams' upbringing, training, surviving with odd jobs, and becoming established were the most interesting for me, as it illustrates the social forces and dispositions that make the person. The later and current years are the increasing successes of an international musical leader, and the parade of orchestras, conducting, travels, and assorted musical stars are as we expect, although much of the details of creating a composition and performance are particularly worthy. I found his perspectives on music, musicians, and the actual work and struggle of composing always edifying. Reading the autobiographies and biographies of composers have a historical and analytical purpose, but this nontechnical book is contemporary in every way, making it attractive to the general reader, not just the musicologist or classical music fan. Adams is only in his early 60s and far from retirement. There will probably be a future updated account of life long after we revel in his forthcoming compositions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a classical? musical tour of the 60's and beyond 22 Jun 2010
By K. T. Brookes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. There is history, biography,discussion of musical history and style- all written in an engaging style. Since I performed a few if this composer's works i was especially interested in knowing how those pieces came to exist. In addition, the author is relaxed and open about his human imperfections, so the reader can laugh, groan, whatever is appropriate, right along with John Adams.

The book is a keeper.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Halleluja Junction 11 July 2011
By Peter R. Lewy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book by one of our most renowned modern composers. It is beautifully written and very thoughtful and insightful with regard to music in general and the art of composing "rlevant" music in this day and age. There are also many interesting recountings of the conception, evolution and production of many of Adams' operatic and orchestral works. Finally Adams provides us with wry insights into his own character and progress. Five stars!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book 29 Jan 2010
By Dutiful son-in-law - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My spouse loved this book, and I got points for getting it for her for Christmas. She is not a musician but loves classical music. Well written, entertaining, informative were her comments. Adams' philosophy of music and views on modern classical music.
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