Naïve and Sentimental Music

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Naïve and Sentimental Music is a symphonic work by the American composer John Adams. The title of the work alludes to an essay by Friedrich Schiller, On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, that contrasts a creative personality that creates art for its own sake (the "naïve") versus one conscious of other purposes, such as art’s place in history (the "sentimental").[1] The composer cites both the slowly developing harmonies of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony and the atmosphere of the Sonoma coastline (where the piece was composed) as inspirations for the work.[2] The piece was co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Ensemble Modern, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. It received its first public performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen on February 19, 1999. A recording by Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic was subsequently released by Nonesuch Records.[1]


The piece has a duration of approximately 48 minutes, and has three movements:

I. Naïve and Sentimental Music. The first movement opens with a meandering melody over simple chords that subsequently undergoes a variety of symphonic transformations.

II. Mother of the Man. This movement consists of slowly evolving harmonies punctuated by chords from an amplified steel guitar.

III. Chain to the Rhythm. In a minimalistic vein, the last movement uses rhythmic fragments that gradually build up to a thunderous climax.


The work is scored for 4 flutes (3, 4 double piccolos), 3 oboes (3 doubles English horn), 3 Bb clarinets (3 doubles bass clarinet 2), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3 doubles contrabassoon), 4 horns in F, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 tubas, amplified steel string guitar, piano, celesta, keyboard sampler, 2 harps, 5 percussion (including 3 who are principally mallet players), and strings.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

In his review of the world premiere, Mark Swed, music critic for the L.A. Times, praised the work for its grand reach, stating that while stylistically it resembled Adams’s earlier works, "Everything is bigger and better".[3] For the New York Premiere, Bernard Holland, music critic for the N.Y. Times, found the piece "Unlovely, yet compelling" in its multiple layers of sound and rhythm.[4] Five years later, in its local premiere with the San Francisco Symphony, Joshua Kosman, music critic for the S.F. Chronicle, praised the work in its scope and composition, writing that it "takes its rhetoric and sense of scale from the symphonies of Bruckner, Mahler and Sibelius, and its musical content from the nexus of pop melody and old-style minimalism a la Steve Reich".[5] It was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003 for "Best classical contemporary composition".[1]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Naive and Sentimental Music John Adams. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  2. ^ Adams, John. Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, pp. 255-256.
  3. ^ Swed, Mark. "Bigger Proves Better in Adams’ Grandiose World", Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, February 22, 1999.
  4. ^ Holland, Bernard. "Mind Games of the Baroque And Minimalist Shock", The New York Times, New York, March 16, 1999.
  5. ^ Kosman, Joshua. "Adams' 'Naïve' masterpiece takes adventuresome path", San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, October 22, 2004.