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(John Coolidge Adams)

This piece written around 1984 by John Coolidge Adams, with the title meaning “study in harmony” in German, is named after a book of the same title published in 1911 by Arnold Schoenberg.  The inspiration for the book came in a dream when while driving across the bridge on San Francisco Bay he saw an oil tanker turn around and take off like what he described as a “Saturn V rocket”.  There are three movements to the composition:

Movement 1:   Un-named
Movement 2:   Anfortas Wood
Movement 3:   Meister Eckhardt and Quackie

The second movement was inspired by the Fisher King that appears in Arthurian legend as a keeper for the Holy Grail who is wounded in the legs or groin and unable to move on his own.  The third movement is a further dream where he dreamed about his wife nicknaming his daughter Quackie.  In the dream Quackie would ride through outer space on the shoulders of Meister Eckhardt, the 15th Century mystic.  It was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and some of its movements have been used for the computer strategy game Civilization IV.   In his own words the composer has said that he sees it as a “parody of a different sort in that it bears a ‘subsidiary relation’ to a model (in this case a number of signal works from the turn of the century like Gurrelieder and the Sibelius Fourth Symphony) but it does without the intent to ridicule”.  He also stated that “The shades of Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy and the young Schoenberg are everywhere in this strange piece”.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Recordings
EMI 55051 (CD: John Adams: Harmonielehre)
Conductor – Simon Rattle