Karl Jenkins: Adiemus (‘Songs of Sanctuary’)

Adiemus is, quite simply, the twentieth-century definition of ‘classical crossover’.

His music knows no bounds – and that is very much its virtue. In 1995, Adiemus ensured that this Welsh composer of advertising music would burst forth into the mainstream. As with so many pieces of classical music, Adiemus’s success in the late twentieth century was initially down to its use on a television advert – in this case, a Delta Airlines commercial. But whereas with composers of the past, such use is always posthumous, in Jenkins’s case the music was actually commissioned by the airline and then developed further by Jenkins into a full-blown classical work.

To say it is scored for sopranos and orchestra is to already define Adiemus in conventional ways that the composer would arguably resist. The female soloist (on the original recording, Miriam Stockley) performs in a fusion of styles, with Western melodic structures, world music influences and free time-signatures abounding. The second female singer (in this case, Mary Carewe) harmonises in a parallel manner, creating an equally new age feel and non-Western classical music sound-world. 

Now an established part of the music we regularly play on Classic FM, it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking Adiemus was when it was first aired on the radio.

Recommended Recording

Miriam Stockley (soprano); Mary Carewe (soprano); London Philharmonic Orchestra; Karl Jenkins (conductor). Virgin: CDV 2890.

Illustration: Mark Millington