Library of Congress Acquires Music Manuscripts and Papers of Composer John Adams

Published : Thursday, June 15, 2023, 9:11 am
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The Library of Congress has acquired the music manuscripts and papers of contemporary American composer, conductor and writer John Adams. Adams is known for works including the opera “Nixon in China” and concert pieces such as “Shaker Loops,” “Harmonielehre,” “Road Movies,” “Chamber Symphony” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.”

John Coolidge Adams was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1947. His career has taken place at the forefront of contemporary music, with Adams’ works among the most played of new classical music pieces beginning in the 1970s.

“The Library of Congress could scarcely conjure a contemporary music collection that carries with it as much recognition and consequence as the manuscripts and papers of John Adams,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “We are proud to count the collection of Adams’ materials among our prized music treasures.”

The archive acquired by the Library includes a variety of materials that tell the story of Adams’ creative life: handwritten music manuscripts and annotated music scores, business and personal correspondence, photographs, date books and diaries, journals, publishing and performing contracts, artwork, and files of news clippings and concert programs. A school assignment from 1960, when Adams was 12 years old, resulted in a hand-illustrated essay on the history of nationalism in music, an effort that garnered appreciative comments from his teacher. A spiral notebook containing lessons on music theory from Adams’ youth transcribes important rules of composition.

The evolution of many works can be traced through voluminous music sketches written in pencil, such as the seven notebooks for Adams’ orchestral work “Harmonielehre.” Boxes of materials for Adams’ operas demonstrate the many phases involved in the production of his large-scale stage works, from background research and early notes on plot and characters, to music drafts and sketches, to complete music manuscripts and annotated full scores used at the point of performance. Letters and notes exchanged with frequent collaborators Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman show the inner workings of Adams’ complex theatrical compositions.

“To have my archives under the care and preservation of the Library of Congress is a great privilege,” said Adams. “Over the years I have visited the Music Division, met their brilliant staff and had the special chance to hold in my hands manuscripts by among others, Brahms, Schoenberg, Bernstein and Charlie Parker. As an American composer – especially with a name like mine – it seems only right that my own work should be with this great institution.”

Adams’ many recognitions include numerous Grammy awards, the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition and the Pulitzer Prize, in addition to several international awards.

Adams has collaborated with the Library on numerous commissions over the past several decades; including the 1984 work “Eros Piano” from the Koussevitzky Foundation, “Road Movies” from the McKim Fund in 1985, and the 2014 work “Second Quartet” from the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music. In 2013, the Library hosted a week-long residency with Adams to develop programming that honored his artistic achievements and celebrated the Library’s role in commissioning new music.

The papers of Adams will join those of other American giants in the performing arts, including Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, George and Ira Gershwin, Martha Graham, Charles Mingus, and Neil Simon, maintained in the Library’s Music Division.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at; and register creative works of authorship at

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