John Adams’s first orchestral work, written in 1979, came well before the operatic work that made him well-known in the 1980s. It’s an interesting listen: solemn and meditative, and yet shot through with an odd kind of mystical optimism.
The music also concerns itself with registers, both very high and very low. Bass sound is witheld from the entire first part of the piece, making its appearance, when it finally arrives, a genuinely surprising and gratifying event. Likewise, long areas of similar figuration in the high winds or metallic percussion (glockenspiel and crotales) create their own feeling of formal unity. With its long “camera pans” and hints of aerial photography the music is very much influenced by film techniques. In no other work of mine is the dramatic impulse kept so consistenly reined in in favor of a natural progression of form and materials. “Common Tones in Simple Time” could justifiably be called “a pastoral with pulse.”
“Pastoral with a pulse”. I like that.