John Adams - Harmonium/The Klinghoffer Choruses


This is one of John Adams' earliest pieces, and one of my favourites. Harmonium is a three part choral piece, set to poems by John Donne (Negative Love) and Emily Dickinson (Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Wild Nights). Even if you think you don't like classical music, or contemporary classical music, do give this a try.

Negative Love starts very quietly with the chorus singing one syllable ("no") repeatedly, opening it out like a flower. It then continues with layers of voices, shifting and phasing over one another, which always reminds me of "Spem in Alium" by John Tavener. Because I Could Not Stop for Death is a quiet, reflective poem, with the poet riding serenely in a carriage with Death, a detached observer of of her life passing before her. The tempo then builds with rumbling bass and brass piling up in waves, until the chorus almost shouts out "Wild Nights!" exultantly. This last piece in particular is completely tumultuous, with waves of orchestra and voices piling up until they finally break ecstatically, and drift quietly to a calm conclusion. The Klinghoffer Choruses are fantastic too. Some are serene and rather other-worldy (Ocean Chorus), while others are rooted in contemporary problems, and filled with anger, hate and fear (Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians, Night Chorus).

Do yourself a huge favour: get this album, put it on the stereo, turn the volume up pretty high, turn the lights off and lie on the floor with your eyes closed. Hit play and brace yourself for an experience. It makes my body tingle so much that it feels like my skin is trying to crawl of my body. This is a good thing, you understand...