Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



John Adams has frequently embedded allusions to the music of others in his work while also drawing on more general stylistic conventions and sensibilities of others to inform his creative output. Although this dynamic has been widely acknowledged in Adams’s body of work by scholars and critics generally, it has received little sustained attention or explanation. I argue that much of his work involves “composing through others,” a process in which he adopts, in various ways, the aesthetic conventions, styles, and sensibilities of other composers. By unearthing traces of this creative approach through a focus on short, but significant, periods of his career, we can craft a more nuanced picture of Adams’s stylistic development.

The title of this dissertation suggests three ways in which Adams has composed through others: modeling, innovation, and recomposition. Modeling involves the outright adoption or mimicking of other composers’ styles, a conspicuous feature of his earliest compositions, which were written in the early- and mid-1970s. Innovation, in this dissertation, refers to the process by which Adams has cultivated new styles and subjected them to testing and development; this process gave rise to Adams’s first large-scale ensemble works during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Recomposition was his most straightforward strategy for composing through others in the late 1980s and early 1990s; he orchestrated the music of past composers as an exercise in revision and elaboration, using the process to help chart new paths forward in composing original works.



Committee Chair

Boutwell, Brett



Included in

Musicology Commons