My Conversation with John Adams

Displeased black woman participating in anti racism demonstrations and shouting through megaphone.
0 91

Here is the audio and transcript, here is part of the episode summary:

He joined Tyler to discuss why architects have it easier than opera composers, what drew him to the story of Antony and Cleopatra, why he prefers great popular music to the classical tradition, the “memory spaces” he uses to compose, the role of Christianity in his work, the anxiety of influence, the unusual life of Charles Ives, the relationship between the availability and appreciation of music, how contemporary music got a bad rap, his favorite Bob Dylan album, why he doesn’t think San Francisco was crucial to his success, why he doesn’t believe classical music is dead or even dying, his fascination with Oppenheimer, the problem with film composing, his letter to Leonard Bernstein, what he’s doing next, and more.

And here is an excerpt:

COWEN: How do you avoid what Harold Bloom called the anxiety of influence?

ADAMS: Harold Bloom was a very great literary critic, sometimes a little bit of a windbag, but his writings on Coleridge and Shelley, and especially on Shakespeare, were very important to me. He had a phrase that he coined, the anxiety of influence, which is interesting because he himself was not a creator. He was a critic, but he intuited that we creators, whether we’re painters or novelists or filmmakers or composers — that we live, so to speak, under the shadow of the greats that preceded us.

If you’re a poet, you’ve got all this great literature behind you, whether it’s Shakespeare or Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson. And likewise for me, I’ve got really heavyweight predecessors in Beethoven, in Bach, in Mahler, in Stravinsky. Maybe that’s what he meant, just the anxiety of, is what I do even comparable with this great art? Another thing is, if I have an idea, has somebody already thought of it before? Those are the neurotic aspects of my life, but I’m no different than anybody else. We just have to deal with those concerns.

COWEN: Are you more afraid of Mozart or of Charles Ives?

ADAMS: [laughs] I’m not afraid of either of them. I love them. I obviously love Mozart more than Charles Ives. Charles Ives is a very, very unusual figure. He was almost completely unknown in most of the 20th century until Leonard Bernstein, who was very glamorous and very well known — Bernstein brought him to the public notice, and he coined this idea that Charles Ives was the Abraham Lincoln of music. Of course, Americans love something they can grasp onto like, “Oh, yes, I can relate to that. He’s the Abraham Lincoln of music.”

Charles Ives was a hermit. He worked during the day in an insurance firm, at which he was very successful, but spent his weekends and his summer vacations composing. His work is very sentimental, also very avant-garde for its time. I’ve conducted quite a few of his pieces. They are not, I have to admit, 100 percent satisfying, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Ives never heard these pieces, or hardly ever heard them.

When you’re composing, you have to hear something and then realize, “Oh, that works and that doesn’t.” I think the fact that Ives — maybe he was just born before his time. He was born in Connecticut in the 1870s, and America at that time just was still a very raw country and not ready for a classical experimental composer.

COWEN: You seem to understand everything in music, from Indian ragas to popular songs, classical music, jazz. Do you ever worry that you have too many influences?


The post My Conversation with John Adams appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.