Four American Styles: Serialism & Minimalism

European influence again raised its head in Schoenberg’s serial method and the rigorous structural techniques of other German composers. Roger Sessions reflects this trend in his nine symphonies (No. 6, 1966). One of his many pupils was Milton Babbitt, who alone constitutes a vital element in America’s intellectual spine, both in his theoretical works and compositions, including the 1985 Piano Concerto. The rigorous constructive techniques met the all-important inspirational centre of Paris and Nadia Boulanger in the work of Elliot Carter, who is surely America’s greatest post-war composer, as his Variations for Orchestra (1955) and Night Fantasies for piano (1980) eloquently attest. Almost by way of reaction to the ‘serial culture’, the minimalists found simplicity and complexity in shifting the phase of repetitive melodic patterns: Steve Reich (Drumming, 1971); Philip Glass (Einstein on the Beach, 1976).

In Harmonium, Adams adapts minimalist techniques to a more expressive, even romantic idiom which brings our American survey full circle.

Classic CD magazine, 1995

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