John Adams’ Hallelujah Junction is the autobiography of, as you might guess, John Adams — the composer, not the president. It’s well written and reflective, as you’d want from a good autobiography, and it’s particularly interesting as a sort of companion to Alex Ross’s The Rest is Noise .
Ross’s book is a history of classical music in the 20th century from a broad perspective. Adams’ autobiography ends up being a look at classical music in the last half of the century from the perspective of one of the major composers of that period. As Adams recounts his own influences — from his school days when he was heavily under the influence of the dominant serialism, to the minimalism that initially inspired his early works — he’s recounting the development of classical music from an inside perspective.
And Adams’ perspective is particularly interesting because while he’s clearly influenced and inspired by these different styles, he’s never entirely been part of any of them. He’s often shelved under “minimalism,” if you’re in a place that has music on shelves, but very little of his music is purely minimalist in the Reich/Riley/Glass fashion. The feeling one gets from the book is that Adams has taken what he likes from these different schools and ignored the stuff he didn’t like.
And of course, this isn’t just a musical history; it’s explicitly about John Adams’ life. So there’s a lot about the process of composition, about conducting, about producing operas (which, wow, there’s a lot that can go wrong, apparently), and about living a life in the arts.
Recommended for fans of Adams or Ross’s book.