Christian Zeal and Activity

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"Christian Zeal and Activity" is the middle movement of American composer John Adams' three-part ensemble work American Standard. The piece has achieved individual notability and is often performed and recorded without the other movements.

Adams states that the title of the movement was "stolen out of old Methodist gospel or hymn tune book"[1] and is an arrangement of "Onward, Christian Soldiers", a popular hymn tune (written as "St. Gertrude") by Arthur Sullivan.[1][2]

Musically, Adams seeks to "displace the voice leading" and sound like Mahler.[1] One reviewer says that the movement, "with an almost Wagnerian overtone to the slow unfolding of melodic strand, continues the American tradition of using hymn tunes, and place[s] Adams firmly in the neo-Romantic movement".[3]

An additional aspect of the piece is that the conductor is instructed to place "sonic found objects" into the composition.[4] In his original recording from 1973, Adams included a recording from a "late-night AM radio talk show in which an abusive host argued about God with a patient man who eventually identified himself as a preacher".[5] This recording extends beyond the conclusion of the musical portion of the movement.[citation needed]

Edo de Waart's 1986 recording of the piece with the San Francisco Symphony (appearing on the 1987 album The Chairman Dances) replaced this interview with a looped, fragmented, non-chronological recording of a Christian sermon on a miracle of Jesus, the healing the man with a withered hand, centered on the words "Why would Jesus have been drawn to a withered hand?"[4] This recording was used on the soundtrack of the 2010 film Shutter Island.[6]


  1. ^ a b c John Adams on KPFA's Ode To Gravity Series. April 18, 1973. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  2. ^ Review of Adams. Orchestral Works. Gramophone. August 1988. p. 38. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  3. ^ Mark Morris. A Guide to 20th-Century Composers. Methuen, 1996. p. 475.
  4. ^ a b "John Adams Re-Imagines the Hymn". March 31, 2008. Retrieved March 10, 2011.
  5. ^ John Adams. "Sonic Youth". The New Yorker 85.25 (August 25, 2008). p32-39.
  6. ^ James Christopher Monger. "Shutter Island [Music from the Motion Picture] - Original Soundtrack - Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved May 20, 2015.

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