American Standard (Adams)

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American Standard is an early ensemble work by noted American composer John Adams. It consists of three movements: a march, a hymn, and a jazz standard.[1] The piece in its entirety has only been recorded once for commercial release, by Adams himself. The middle movement, "Christian Zeal and Activity", has achieved individual notability.

The work is named for American Standard Brand appliances[2] although Adams says that the title also reflects that the constituent movements are "indigenous musical forms" of the United States.[1]

The commercial release was produced by Brian Eno and released on Eno's Obscure Records label in 1975.[2] The recording was of a 23 March 1973 performance at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art by the New Music Ensemble of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music of which Adams was director and was released together with two works by Christopher Hobbs and one by Gavin Bryars on an album called Ensemble Pieces.[citation needed]

The work is aleatoric and Adams did not specify the instruments on which the works should be performed, did not write bar lines for the music, and noted that a conductor was not necessary to perform the work.[citation needed]

The first movement of the work is "John Philip Sousa". Adams himself notes that it is "obviously a march, but...stripped down to a plodding pulse, with no melody or harmony" and that it sounds "like the retreat from battle of a badly wounded army (not my original intention, but curiously evocative all the same)".[2] All of the players play a B♭ chord repeated about 60 times with an addition of what he calls "corny march rhythms".[1] Adams felt that the piece was technically difficult to perform.[1]

The middle movement, "Christian Zeal and Activity", which includes slow tonal chords and a recorded sample of a preacher speaking,[3] has achieved notability independent of American Standard as a whole. It is usually the only part of the work recorded or performed,[4] and the only part for which published performance materials are available.[5][6]

The final movement is titled "Sentimentals" and is an "arrangement or reworking" of Duke Ellington's jazz standard "Sophisticated Lady" that separates melody from harmony.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e John Adams on KPFA's Ode To Gravity Series. Interview by Charles Amirkhanian. 18 April 1973. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b c John Adams. "Sonic Youth". The New Yorker 85.25 (25 August 2008). p32-39.
  3. ^ "John Adams Re-Imagines the Hymn". 31 March 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  4. ^ Adams, John. The Chairman Dances. Nonesuch Records (Nonesuch 79144). CD. 1987.
  5. ^ "Works: American Standard". Earbox: John Adams. Earbox. Retrieved January 19, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Christian Zeal and Activity". Boosey & Hawkes. Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 19 January 2016. 

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