Adams – Chamber Symphony

by Max Derrickson

John Coolidge Adams   (b Worcester, Massachusetts, February 15, 1947 –)

Chamber Symphony (1992)
1. Mongrel Airs
2. Aria with Walking Bass
3. Roadrunner


[. . .]  The Chamber Symphony’s genesis occurred as the result of a curious and felicitous event one Saturday morning.  Somewhat daunted by writing for a small group of performers, Adams had been studying the score of Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony (1906).  Schoenberg’s work has achieved an iconic status with its aggressive intensity and masterfulness of modern composing techniques.  While submerged in the study of Schoenberg, Adams could hear the soundtracks to classic cartoons being played in the next room by his young son Ben.  To Adams, then, the two musical expressions held much in common, not only their aggressiveness, but also their acrobaticism and contrapuntal complexity (multiple melodic lines playing at once).  The cartoons and the Schoenberg mixed together in Adams’  head, and the seeds for the Chamber Symphony were born, and it was fittingly dedicated to his son.

Like the Schoenberg, Adams scored his Symphony for 15 instruments, but characteristically added a trap set of percussion, synthesizer, trumpet and trombone (indeed, what is a good cartoon score without a trombone and lots of cool sound effects?).  The three subtitles to the movements give us strong clues [. . .]