• Arthur Bliss
  • Adam Zero (1946)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)
  • 2(2pic)2(ca)2+sx ad lib.2/4231/timp.4perc/hp.pf.cel/gtr/str
  • Piano [reduction]
  • 45 min

Programme Note


Adam Zero is an allegory on the cycle of man’s life, passing through birth, experience and death via the passage of the seasons. Its novel setting is a stage on which the ballet of Adam Zero’s life is created with Adam cast as the principal dancer, the omnipotent as the Stage Director and the woman in Adam’s life as the Choreographer who finally also becomes the figure of Death.

I. Fanfare Overture
II. The Stage
III. Birth of Adam
IV. Adam's Fates
V. Dance of Spring
VI. Love Dance
VII. Bridal Ceremony
VIII. Adam Achieves Power IX. Re-entry of Adam's Fates
X. Dance of Summer
XI. Approach of Autumn
XII. Night Club Scene
XIII. Destruction of Adam's World
XIV. Approach of Winter
XV. Dance with Death
XVI. Finale - Fanfare Coda


This music dates from the winter of 1945-46 and the height of Bliss's powers: it is arguably his greatest work, and certainly numbers among his half dozen finest scores. Its total neglect both on the stage and in the concert hall is amazing and incomprehensible.

The ballet is an allegory of the cycle of man's life - his birth, his passage through the spring, summer, autumn and winter of his existence, and his death. The world in which he lives is represented by a stage on which a ballet is being created. The stage is empty and dark at his birth but is gradually lit and filled with scenery as he develops. Ultimately Adam dies on an empty stage, as the cycle of creation begins again with the birth of a new ballet.

The Fanfare Overture is played before the curtain rises, and in its virile self-confidence is utterly typical of its composer and sets its personal stamp on what is to follow. The orchestration is very lavish, and this may be one of the reasons for the work's neglect. Particularly interesting is the dance band instrumentation in the Night Club Scene, including guitar and saxophone, as well as a variety of percussion, and with the piano scored orchestrally. This movement rushes straight into the Destruction of Adam's World, their unity underlined by the continuing orchestral use of the piano, and taken together they constitute the longest set piece (some 7 minutes) in the whole work.

At the beginning of the fifth movement, Dance of Spring, there had appeared a fanfare-like trumpet motif, which reappears following the orchestral collapse of the Destruction, with infinite pathos, and it must constitute one of the most expressive brief motifs ever given to the trumpet.

The Woman in this allegory is both the creator and the destroyer of Adam: his first love, his wife, and his mistress. Finally she is the figure of beneficent Death, the final Maestoso sequence of whose dance is prefaced by a quotation in the score from Whitman: "Lovely and soothing Death, serenely arriving". But life goes on, and with a snatch of the opening to the whole score, the Fanfare Coda heralds the curtain.

© Lewis Foreman


Adam Zero: The Stage
Adam Zero: Dance of Spring
Adam Zero: Approach of Autumn
Adam Zero: Fanfare Overture
Adam Zero: Birth of Adam
Adam Zero: Adam's Fates
Adam Zero: Bridal Ceremony
Adam Zero: Adam Achieves Power
Adam Zero: Fanfare Coda


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