John Adams's Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives

By Lintott, Robert | Notes, March 2013 | Go to article overview

John Adams's Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives


Lintott, Robert, Notes


John Adams's Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives. By Timothy A. Johnson. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011. [xv, 278 p. ISBN 9781409426820. $99.95.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

Richard Nixon's diplomatic mission to the People's Republic of China in 1972 was one of the most important political events of the twentieth century, as it marked the first time a U.S. president had visited the emerging superpower since its transformation into a Communist nation. The meetings held between Nixon and his counterpart Mao Zedong were an important part of the former's strategy of détente with the Communist world. John Adams's opera Nixon in China-premiered fifteen years later in 1987-was one of the most important musical events of the twentieth century, as it was the composer's first foray in the world of opera and helped to secure his place as one of the preeminent composers in the United States.

For scholars of diplomacy and political science who wish to examine Nixon's visit, the amount of secondary source material is almost embarrassing in its magnitude. The landscape is altogether different for those who wish to study Adams's opera. While there are a number of articles and essays about it, it had not been the subject of extensive, monograph-length discussion. Timothy Johnson's new book, John Adams's "Nixon in China": Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives, aims to correct that deficiency. Johnson had focused his previous work on bridging the gap between music and other disciplines. His first two books-Foundations of Diatonic Theory: A Mathematically Based Approach to Music Fundamentals (Emeryville, CA: Key College Publishing, 2003) and Baseball and the Music of Charles Ives: A Proving Ground (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004)-paired music theory with mathematics and baseball history. This new book returns Johnson to an area he began studying more than twenty years ago, when he wrote the first published dissertation on the music of John Adams ("Harmony in the Music of John Adams: From Phrygian Gates to Nixon in China," Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1991).

In the present book, Johnson sets out "to correlate historical events with those depicted onstage and to highlight the actions, emotions, feelings, and motivations depicted in the opera through music" (p. 5). By and large he succeeds. In comparing historical events to the music, Johnson utilizes two primary methods of musical analysis that focus on metrical dissonance and neo-Riemannian harmonic transformations. When using the former, he borrows from Harald Krebs's notational system. The choice to analyze Adams's music as containing metrical dissonance is a wise one given that the composer consistently builds offsetting layers of time into his music. The predilection for this stylistic feature is as evident in his 2005 opera Doctor Atomic as it is in Nixon in China.

The latter method of analysis provides a method through which Adams's harmonic language can examined both accurately and rewardingly. Adams has a decidedly twentieth-century bent to his harmonic language, yet it defies serial analysis. Rather, he works largely in triads that shiftslowly over time to create the foundational building blocks upon which his formal structures rest. The neo-Riemannian analysis is crafted precisely to work with these triads, and Johnson does an excellent job of using the tools of the still-new and exciting system. In examining Richard Nixon's "News" aria in act 1, scene 1, for instance, Johnson points out the shifts from A-flat major to F minor, back to the original tonality and then to C minor (p. 93). The neo- Riemannian system analyzes these changes as simple transformations from one chord to the next based on common tones. Johnson then combines these transformations with the significance he has attached to each tonality to crafta broader semiotic picture of the aria.

What makes this approach so successful is the fact that the analysis is never opaque. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

John Adams's Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.