From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Harmonielehre is a 1985 orchestral composition by the American composer John Adams. The composition's title, German for "study of harmony," is also the title of several music theory texts, including those written by Arnold Schoenberg (1911), Heinrich Schenker (1906), and Hugo Riemann (1893), with Adams explicitly referring to Schoenberg's.[1]

Adams has stated that the piece was inspired by a dream he had in which he was driving across the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and saw an oil tanker on the surface of the water abruptly turn upright and take off like a Saturn V rocket.[2] This dream and the following composition of the piece ended a writer's block Adams had been experiencing for eighteen months,[3] and the movements reflect his situation.[citation needed]


The composition is in three movements:

  1. First Movement
It begins with the powerful repetition of chords in E minor in minimalist fashion. These chords form a recurring theme throughout the movement, interspersed with motoric episodes that use Schoenberg's harmonic progressions as chordal "gates" (a name coined by Adams to describe juxtapositions of harmonic areas in his music).[4] At the center of the arch-like 17-minute movement arises what Tom Service has called an "achingly expressive lyrical theme."[5]
  1. The Anfortas Wound
The brooding second movement, based on the legend of the Fisher King, shuns minimalist processes, favoring bleak Sibelius-like soundscapes, building inexorably slowly to twin climaxes of brutal dissonance, the second of which is drawn from the climactic sonority of the first movement of Gustav Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.
  1. Meister Eckhardt and Quackie
The third movement, according to Adams, is inspired by a dream that he had about his infant daughter Emily, whom he and his wife had briefly nicknamed "Quackie".[1]




Harmonielehre appears in the True Detective TV series Church in Ruins (S02e06) [6]. It also appears in the Modern Era soundtrack of the computer game Civilization IV,[7] along with several other pieces by Adams. It also appears on the I Am Love soundtrack.[8] The work was selected for inclusion in The Guardian's list of "50 Greatest Symphonies."[9]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b "John Adams on Harmonielehre". Earbox. John Adams. Retrieved 2015-10-23.
  2. ^ Harmonielehre John Adams. Retrieved 2010-07-15
  3. ^ Adams, John. Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, pp. 128-129.
  4. ^ Phrygian Gates Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine John Adams. Retrieved 2011-04-15
  5. ^ " "Symphony guide: John Adams's Harmonielehre," The Guardian, 11 March 2014, accessed January 19, 2018.
  6. ^ True Detective Soundtrack, retrieved 2019-01-22
  7. ^ Grahckheuhl (2017-12-13), Civilization 4 Soundtrack: Harmonielehre: Part I
  8. ^ IMDB (2010-10-18), I Am Love trailer, retrieved 2016-10-18
  9. ^ " "Symphony guide: John Adams's Harmonielehre," The Guardian, 11 March 2014, accessed January 19, 2018.