The Wound-Dresser

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The Wound-Dresser
by John Adams
Commissioned byCarillon Importers on behalf of Absolut Vodka, with assistance from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra through a gift from Daniel and Constance Kunin
Text"The Wound-Dresser" (Walt Whitman, 1865)
Durationabout 20 minutes
ScoringChamber orchestra and baritone singer
Date24 February 1989
LocationSt Paul, Minnesota
ConductorJohn Adams
PerformersSanford Sylvan (baritone) Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

The Wound-Dresser is a piece for chamber orchestra and baritone singer by composer John Adams. The piece is an elegiac setting of excerpts from American poet Walt Whitman's poem "The Wound-Dresser" (1865)[1] about his experience as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War.[2]

It was written for baritone singer Sanford Sylvan, who premiered it on 24 February 1989 in St Paul, Minnesota, with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer.[3][4] It was subsequently recorded by the same forces for Nonesuch Records.[5] Interpreters who have performed and recorded it since have included Thomas Hampson,[6] Nathan Gunn,[7] Jeremy Huw Williams,[8] and Christopher Maltman.[9]

In 2011, the Oregon Symphony performed and recorded the composition for Music for a Time of War.[10][11]


  1. ^ The poem "The Wound-Dresser" is part of Whitman's collection Drum-Taps, which in turn is part of Leaves of Grass. It is not to be confused with the book, Whitman, Walt, The Wound Dresser: Letters written to his mother from the hospitals in Washington during the Civil War, edited by Richard M. Bucke (1898).
  2. ^ Kim, Heidi Kathleen (2013-01-01). "Whitman's Identity at War: Contexts and Reception of John Adams' The Wound-Dresser". Walt Whitman Quarterly Review. 30 (2): 78–92. doi:10.13008/2153-3695.2056. ISSN 0737-0679.
  3. ^ "John Adams - the Wound-Dresser".
  4. ^ Richard Wigmore (30 June 2020) [15 May 2009]. "Sylvan, Sanford". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.2079367. ISBN 9781561592630.
  5. ^ "Fearful Symmetries / The Wound Dresser". Nonesuch Records. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Passion & Pain: Adams, Haydn & Schubert". Presto Classical. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Adams: Shaker Loops / Wound Dresser / Short Ride in a Fast Machine". Naxos Records. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
  8. ^ "John Adams: The Wound Dresser". BBC. 5 June 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  9. ^ CD: BBCLJ30012;
  10. ^ Miller, Michael (April 7, 2012). ""Music for a Time of War" – The Oregon Symphony under Carlos Kalmar play Ives, Adams, Britten, and Vaughan Williams on a Pentatone Release ... Highly Recommended!". The Berkshire Review. Archived from the original on August 28, 2012. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  11. ^ "Music for a Time of War". AllMusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved November 13, 2012.
  • The John Adams Earbox, Nonesuch Records, NY 1999

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