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Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life Hardcover – Sep 30 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sept. 30 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281151
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #791,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“What a wonderful book! Entertaining, touching and revealing. Like Berlioz's memoirs, it gives us a glimpse into the life and times of a great composer. Not to be missed.” ―Emanuel Ax

“John Adams's memoir is elegant, hilarious, humble, sophisticated, touching, and enormously enlightening about a whole era. It is a remarkable demystification of what it means to be a composer. Adams is a philosopher/craftsman, attempting to reflect and render the truth as he observes and feels it, in all its complexity and its simplicity. His book is a testimony that is equally emotional and intellectual, refreshing and comprehensible to anyone who has ever built or created something with care and attention, whether it be a piece of music, a table, a business, or a family.” ―Derek Bermel

Hallelujah Junction is one of the best and most important composer autobiographies next to those of Berlioz and Wagner. A fascinating picture of John Adams the man unfolds with the same directness, precision, and passion as his music. What impresses me most is the sense of absolute honesty in the narrative: a quality exceedingly rare in composers' writings about themselves and their work.” ―Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

“John Adams's memoir is exuberant, opinionated, and vastly informative. Like a renegade tour guide, he takes us on several trips at once. In recounting his own story, he shows us the inner workings of his own creative process and simultaneously illuminates the recent history of music-making. His learned, witty, self-mocking voice is both subjective and objective, telling us all about him and all about the music around us. Amazingly, you can almost hear it.” ―John Lithgow

“Charming and illuminating . . . Hallelujah Junction stands with books by Hector Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive autobiographies of major musical figures.” ―David Hajdu, The New York Times Book Review

“Thoughtful, amusing, analytical . . . Hallelujah Junction offers the voice of America straight from the horse's mouth, and to read something so intelligent, reasoned and caring sure feels good these days.” ―Los Angeles Times

“In the classical-music world, Adams is seen as a sort of late-career Picasso: a star, a standby, a one-man manufactory of brilliant, audience-friendly work. Hallelujah Junction doesn't overturn these perceptions, but it adds a surprising hue of restlessness and uncertainty to the portrait. One of America's most accessible living composers turns out to be one of the hardest to pin down.” ―Slate

About the Author

John Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1947. He is the composer of such acclaimed works as Harmonielehre, Nixon in China, Naive and Sentimental Music, El Niño, and On the Transmigration of Souls, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book for fans of John Adams music. He goes into details about the backstory behind most of his major works, discussing their strengths and weaknesses, and how they fit into his overall creative output. He discusses other artists of our time and reveals their influence on him, or even just makes a comment. One learns the richness of his creative output and why he cannot be categorized into a genre like Minimalism. He is too interesting and curious to stay still an mine a fixed "John Adams" style. This became clear from his Chamber Concerto onward. This is a candid autobiography that reveals just enough of the composer's life story to get a sense of the life that made the creative person. The writing is strong and evocative throughout, and very well-organized. This is a book for general audience: no special musical training is needed. For those wanting to learn how John Adams ticks, this is the book to get. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I was delightful to read this book. Written by deep, talented and humorous person who opens the curtain to the composing process as well as to the old times in musical life of USA
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa561287c) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eab54c) out of 5 stars Superb in Every Way Jan. 5 2009
By gtra1n - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So as not to diminish my thoughts on this book, I should first mention that I am a great lover of Adams' music, and as a composer always interested in what other composers have to write about themselves. That being said, this is a wonderful book in every way. Adams is a graceful and charming writer, and the book runs on several parallel and intertwined courses that are mutually supportive, like elegant counterpoint. He recounts his personal and professional life, and along the way examines himself, his art and the music of other colleagues. His critical evaluation of his own work and that of others is exceptionally clear, well-considered and wise, and his thoughts on what it takes to be a composer, what he feels is the right path, and his own experiences of the difficulties of living as a serious, creative artist in America are sober and courageous. I find myself constantly re-reading passages simply for the pleasure of the insight of his thoughts and his ability to express them.

This is a book for all readers, not just specialists or fans. It's an exceptional autobiography of any kind, of any figure in contemporary American life, and for anyone interested in classical music in general, and the current iterations, this book demands to be read. This will be as essential a part of the literature of music as Adams' own work is an essential part of the history of music itself.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eab798) out of 5 stars Composer as Storyteller Jan. 18 2010
By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Adams' background, rise, and development to perhaps the foremost American classical composer alive is well examined in this autobiography. A fan of his compositions from the outset and having seen many of their performances sometimes with Adams conducting, I find additional resonance with his rich and lively descriptions of nearby locales, characters, musics, and events, since I, just two years his senior, had lived under similar and often the same musical and socio-cultural influences in the Bay Area. Adams' takes on John Cage, early electronica, and Miminalism's Steve Reich and Philip Glass are keen, full of peer insights. Adams acknowledges that he discovered his voice, his own unique compositional style, at age 30 after a long series of avant-garde experimentation. His influences besides classical composers, including Wagner and Ives, were psychedelic rock (e.g., Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrex, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead) as well as jazz greats (e.g., Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane). Adams is a Boomer composer who lived the alternative and experimental musical life. In 1981, his choral symphony "Harmonium" premiered at the inaugural of Davis Symphony Hall of the San Francisco Symphony. It launched him, providing an international reputation and a major record label, Nonesuch. (Later, his "Dharma at Big Sur" celebrated the opening of Disney Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.) His second punch was "Grand Pianola Music", whose conceptual source was an LSD memory of his attending a Rudolf Serkin concert of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto; the keyboard of Serkin's Steinway seemed to be continually expanding.

The early years of Adams' upbringing, training, surviving with odd jobs, and becoming established were the most interesting for me, as it illustrates the social forces and dispositions that make the person. The later and current years are the increasing successes of an international musical leader, and the parade of orchestras, conducting, travels, and assorted musical stars are as we expect, although much of the details of creating a composition and performance are particularly worthy. I found his perspectives on music, musicians, and the actual work and struggle of composing always edifying. Reading the autobiographies and biographies of composers have a historical and analytical purpose, but this nontechnical book is contemporary in every way, making it attractive to the general reader, not just the musicologist or classical music fan. Adams is only in his early 60s and far from retirement. There will probably be a future updated account of life long after we revel in his forthcoming compositions.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eab75c) out of 5 stars A compelling panorama on the development of 20th century classical music, and more Dec 24 2014
By Philippe Vandenbroeck - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
John Adams, America’s best known living composer, is far from universally loved. His work is variedly labeled as dreary Minimalism, facile postmodernism, reactionary neoromanticism, politically correct eclecticism, and more. Personally I have been listening to his work for many years, with deepening admiration. For whatever it is worth I believe that compositions such as Harmonielehre, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Nino and The Dharma at Big Sur will eventually be accepted as a solid part of the canon of serious Western music.

In his autobiography Halleluja Junction the composer cogently and vivaciously retraces the path from his early musical experiences to creative maturity. The early chapters recount his New England youth and composition studies at Harvard University. In 1971 Adams moved to the West Coast and settled down in the Bay Area where he still lives. As a composer Adams started to find his own voice in the late 1970s. He considers his piano piece Phrygian Gates (1977) to be his first mature piece. Harmonium (1980), his first large scale work for large orchestra and chorus, was another important milestone.

I found the transitional part of his autobiography, roughly covering the two decades from 1965 to 1985, the most insightful. Here is an aspiring composer who has absorbed and tries to forge his own voice from a fantastically wide range of influences - the canon of 18th and 19th century European art music, the vernacular of jazz and American popular song, post-war serialism and Cagean aleatorics, minimalism, counterculture pop music, the emergence of electronically generated sounds. His early infatuation with the musical avant-garde, however, proves to be stillborn. In 1976 Adams had a revelation whilst driving his old Karmann Ghia convertible along a ridge in the Sierra foothills. His tape recorder was playing music from Act I of Götterdämmerung. Wagner’s chromatic but still tonal harmonies produced „an expressive world of constantly changing, forever ambiguous, disturbingly human yearning”. Adams realizes that he could not relinquish the power of tonal harmony if he wanted to build expressive, large scale musical structures. There and then he understood that a personal harmonic language would have to be the core of his compositional genome. All this went against the grain of the atonal avant-garde the budding composer initially felt attracted to.

Adams felt, however, he was entitled to embrace this legacy: „The harmonic language developed by Schumann and Wagner did not die out with the advent of Modernism. It simply moved across the Atlantic, where it was appropriated by composers, many of them African Americans and émigré Jews” who created the tradition that he grew up with. The harmonic essence of composers like Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Ellington was not all that different from the chromaticism of the late Romantic composers. But in that process of migration the morbid self-awareness of turn-of-the-century European composers was transformed into a characteristically New World, jubilant lyricism. This „fresh optimism, busy and brash and thoroughly at ease with itself” is in my opinion still the tinta, the color or atmosphere that pervades John Adams’ mature oeuvre.

From 1985 onwards the flow of commissions provided Adams with a constant supply of artistic challenges. The storyline of Halleluja Junction then turns into a blow by blow account of how he tackled his major compositions. Here it is interesting to see how his fundamental optimism intersects with the grave conflicts and dilemmas of our time. Particularly in his stage works - Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, Doctor Atomic - Adams confronts the ambiguities surrounding his American identity. These are counterbalanced by a series of works - El Nino, A Flowering Tree, The Gospel According to the Other Mary - that confirm his belief in the generative and healing potential of particularly the female element in our society.

Adams is an exceptionally reflective and articulate artist. There is much more in this book to nurture the reader’s understanding of his artistic position and a richly layered compositional process matured over decades.

I found this book rewarding in many respects. It offers a compelling autobiographical narrative, a variegated and often jocular panorama on the development of 20th century ‚classical’ music, and a fascinating insight into the workings of a creative mind. However, a solid grasp of 19th and 20th classical music and at least some exposure to Adams’ own work is necessary to fully enjoy this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eabd2c) out of 5 stars a classical? musical tour of the 60's and beyond June 22 2010
By K. T. Brookes - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. There is history, biography,discussion of musical history and style- all written in an engaging style. Since I performed a few if this composer's works i was especially interested in knowing how those pieces came to exist. In addition, the author is relaxed and open about his human imperfections, so the reader can laugh, groan, whatever is appropriate, right along with John Adams.

The book is a keeper.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eabaec) out of 5 stars Halleluja Junction July 11 2011
By Peter R. Lewy - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book by one of our most renowned modern composers. It is beautifully written and very thoughtful and insightful with regard to music in general and the art of composing "rlevant" music in this day and age. There are also many interesting recountings of the conception, evolution and production of many of Adams' operatic and orchestral works. Finally Adams provides us with wry insights into his own character and progress. Five stars!