Date of this Version
My document takes as its subject The Wound-Dresser by American composer John Coolidge Adams (b. 1947). Published in 1988, this twenty minute work for baritone voice and orchestra remains Adams’s sole contribution to the non-operatic solo voice repertoire.
In The Wound-Dresser Adams grapples with the historical churning of his own times by looking to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Charles Ives. A brief biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson begins the document in order to elucidate Emerson’s connection to Adams and Whitman. I then introduce Walt Whitman, the author of the text used in The Wound-Dresser and suggest that Whitman’s literary voice can be seen as resonating with Adams’s compositional voice in The Wound-Dresser. I will argue that Whitman’s work of care is central to Adams’s reading of Whitman in his conception of The Wound-Dresser.
Next I give a biographical sketch of John Adams, with a focus on his geographical association with the Concord School, identification of his primary artistic influences, and a discussion of his own personal search for a unique and authentic compositional voice. I illustrate that in Adams’s self-proclaimed “post-style,” he looks to create a fertile emotional environment that is motivated by his conception of a Whitmanian authenticity. This “post-style” utilizes minimalist techniques and electronic components, but rejects what Adams understands as the aesthetic of minimalism (non narrative/process oriented).
After a brief discussion of the musical language and forces Adams uses in The Wound-Dresser, I will argue that Adams’s composition can be viewed as a musical avatar for Whitman’s text. I conclude by stating that Adams’s clear intention in The Wound Dresser and the context provided by Whitman’s text provide substantial evidence to say, in the Ivesian sense, that the work has “caught in [its] canvas” a “sympathy” of Transcendentalism.
Advisor: William Shomos