The Wound Dresser by John Adams: Review

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The second piece I reviewed was entitled The Wound Dresser. This is a composition for chamber orchestra and baritone singer. John Adams based this piece off of The Wound Dresser, a poem by Walt Whitman. The poem was written in in 1865 and was based on Whitman’s experiences working as a nurse in the American Civil War. John Adam’s is most often recognized as a minimalist, and well known for his pieces Doctor Atomic, and Short Ride in a Fast Car. You can hear examples of minimalism all throughout the piece. What I found interesting was that when Adams was working on this piece, his father was dying of Alzheimer’s disease. This gave Adams the ability to connect with Whitman’s poem on a much deeper level. Not just by having an awareness of dying, but by caring for people who are dying. Lyrically, this piece start out with a man reminiscing of caring for wounded soldiers in the hospital. It was his job do change the dressings on the wounded soldiers. What I noticed most was how Adams reflected the mood and tone of the lyrics by using odd combinations of instruments, and unusual harmonic combinations. The bugle style trumpet, with a synthesizer, and some extreme ranges on the first violin produce a sense of misery or weakness that couples with the baritone’s lyrics perfectly. The first violin’s solo was beautiful but yet projected a somehow painful, sorrowful feel. When the strings all began to play, it was slow The piece starts out with just violins, and the first violin playing a solo in an usually high register. The double basses begin playing legato and slowly fading in and out. If pain and sorrow could be written through music, then John Adams did it in this piece. I heard them eventually playing pizzicato, with strings still sweeping in and out. That moment was beautiful. There was a trumpet solo, which somehow sounded distant. Upon reflection I realized that it had the same effect that Adams used in his piece Distant Trumpet written in 1986. The lyrics were...
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