Dissertation Index

Author: Fyr, Kyle R.

Title: Proportion, Temporality, and Performance Issues in Piano Works of John Adams

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: January 2010

Completed: July 2011


This dissertation is focused on investigating the ways in which the American composer John Adams shapes time in his piano compositions. Underlying their fluid, seemingly improvisatory musical surfaces, Adams’s piano works feature a high level of temporal organization. Due to the fact that these pieces feature unwavering pulsation in constant tempi and since other traditional markers that influence perception of musical time are frequently either absent or subjugated, proportionality becomes a prime method by which Adams shapes time in his piano pieces—a feature especially evident in the tightly organized networks of temporal proportions that create and demarcate form in China Gates (1977) and Phrygian Gates (1977-78). Although Hallelujah Junction (1996) in some ways epitomizes Adams’s development toward a more intuitive style, his approach to proportion and temporality in this later composition has some consistencies with the earlier two piano works. I therefore quantitatively analyze temporal design and proportional organization in China Gates, Phrygian Gates, and Hallelujah Junction in order to explore the ways in which Adams organizes time across his piano output. Throughout my investigations, I discuss the implications of my findings not only for musical analysis but also for performance, proposing ways in which performers may effectively convey the temporal proportions underlying these works. Finally, I explore further applications of my approach in non-piano works by Adams and in works by Steve Reich to demonstrate the usefulness of proportion and temporality for analysis of pulse-based minimalist and post-minimalist compositions in general.

Keywords: time, proportion, pulse, piano, performance, John Adams, minimalism, China Gates, Phrygian Gates, Hallelujah Junction


Chapter 1—John Adams’s Compositional Style
Chapter 2—Theories of Time and Proportion
Chapter 3—Proportion and Temporality in China Gates
Chapter 4—Proportion and Temporality in Phrygian Gates
Chapter 5—Temporality and Proportion in Hallelujah Junction
Chapter 6—Temporal Proportionality in Other Post-Minimalist Works


Kyle Fyr
University of Northern Colorado
Frasier Hall 122, Campus Box 28
Greeley, CO 80639

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