P h i l i p
G l a s s
Philip Glass (born January 31, 1937) is an Academy Award-nominated American composer. He is considered one of the most influential composers of the late-20th century and is widely acknowledged as a composer who has brought art music to the public (apart from precursors such as Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein), in creating an accessibility not previously recognized by the broader market. Glass's music is frequently described as minimalist, though he has distanced himself from that description, calling himself, among other things, a composer of "music with repetitive structures." Though his earliest music could be arguably be called minimalist, his later style has evolved significantly enough that the label is probably inappropriate for many of his works.
Glass is extremely prolific as a composer: he has written ensemble works, operas, symphonies, concertos, film scores, and solo works. Glass counts many visual artists, writers, musicians, and directors among his friends, including Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Doris Lessing, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Wilson, John Moran, actor Bill Treacher, Godfrey Reggio, Ravi Shankar, David Bowie, the conductor Dennis Russell Davies, and electronic musician Aphex Twin, who have all collaborated with him.
Beginnings, education and influences.
Glass was born in Baltimore, Maryland as the grandson of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. His father owned a record store, and consequently Glass's record collection consisted, to a large extent, of unsold records, and thus the composer encountered modern music (Hindemith, Bart°Zk, Shostakovich) and Western classical music (Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartets and Schubert's two Piano Trios), at a very early age. He then studied the flute as a child at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago at the age of 15, where he studied Mathematics and Philosophy. He then went on to the Juilliard School of Music where he switched to primarily playing the keyboard. His composition teachers included Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma. During this time, in 1959, he was a winner in the BMI Foundation's BMI Student Composer Awards, one of the most prestigious international prizes for young composers. In the summer of 1960, he studied with Darius Milhaud and composed a Violin Concerto for a fellow student, Dorothy Pixley-Rothschild. A next step was Paris, where he studied with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger from 1963 to 1965, analyzing scores of Johann Sebastian Bach (The Well-Tempered Clavier), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the Piano Concertos), and Beethoven. Glass later stated in his autobiography Music by Philip Glass (1987) that the new music performed at Pierre Boulez's Domaines Musicales concerts in Paris lacked any excitement for him (with notable exceptions of the music by John Cage and Morton Feldman), but he was deeply impressed by performances of new plays at Jean-Louis Barrault's Od°Zon theatre and the films of the French New Wave, by auteurs such as Jean-Luc Godard and Fran°Zois Truffaut. After working with Ravi Shankar in France on a film score (Chappaqua), Glass traveled to northern India in 1966, where he came in contact with Tibetan refugees. He met Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 1972 .
His distinctive style arose from his work with Ravi Shankar and his perception of rhythm in Indian music as being entirely additive. When he returned home he renounced all his earlier compositions that were written in a moderately modern style comparable to the music of Darius Milhaud, Aaron Copland, and Samuel Barber and began writing pieces based on repetitive structures and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett, whose work he encountered when he was writing for experimental theater. The first of the early pieces in this minimalist idiom was the music for a production of Beckett's play Com°Zdie (1963) in 1965 for two soprano saxophones, a fourth was a string quartet (No.1, 1966). Minimalism: From Strung Out to Music in 12 Parts
Finding little sympathy from traditional performers and performance spaces, Glass eventually formed an ensemble in New York City in the late 1960s with fellow ex-students Steve Reich, Jon Gibson, and others and began performing mainly in art galleries. These galleries were the only real connection between musical minimalism and minimalist visual art°Zapart from personal friendships with visual artists, who had similar aesthetic interests, and were supporting Glass's and Reich's musical activities (and often made the posters for concerts).
The first concert of Philip Glass's new music was at Jonas Mekas's Film-Makers Cinemath°Zque (Anthology Film Archives) in 1968. This concert included Music in the Shape of a Square for two flutes (an homage to Erik Satie, performed by Glass and Gibson) and Strung Out for amplified solo violin (performed by the violinist Pixley-Rothschild). The musical scores were tacked on the wall, and the performers had to move while playing. Glass's new works met with a very enthusiastic response by the open-minded audience that consisted mainly of visual and performance artists who were highly sympathetic to Glass's reductive approach.
Apart from performing his music, he worked as a cab driver, had a moving company with Steve Reich, and worked as an assistant for the sculptor Richard Serra. During this time he made friends with other New York based artists such as Sol LeWitt, Nancy Graves, Laurie Anderson, and Chuck Close. After certain differences of opinion with Steve Reich, Glass formed the Philip Glass Ensemble (while Reich formed Steve Reich and Musicians), an amplified ensemble including keyboards, wind instruments (saxophones, flutes), and soprano voices. At first his works continued to be rigorously minimalist, diatonic and repetitively structured, such as Two Pages, Contrary Motion, or Music in Fifths (a kind of an homage to his composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, who spotted out "hidden fifths" in his student works and regarded them as cardinal sins). Eventually Glass's music grew less austere, becoming more complex and dramatic, with pieces such as Music in Similar Motion (1969), Music with Changing Parts (1970). The series culminated in the 4-hour-long Music in Twelve Parts (1971°Z1974), which began as a sole piece in twelve instrumental parts but developed into a cycle that summed up Glass's musical achievement since 1967, and even transcended it°Zthe last part features a twelve-tone theme, sung by the soprano voice of the ensemble. Though he finds the term minimalist inaccurate to describe his later work, Glass does accept this term for pieces up to and including Music in 12 Parts.
The Portrait Trilogy: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten
Glass continued his work on south street with two series of instrumental works, °ZAnother Look at Harmony°Z (1975) and °ZFourth Series°Z (1978°Z79), but in turn his music theater works from this time became more famous. The first one was a collaboration with Robert Wilson°Za piece of musical theater that was later designated by Glass as the first opera of his portrait opera trilogy: Einstein on the Beach (composed in 1975 and first performed in 1976), featuring his ensemble, solo violin, chorus, and actors. The piece was praised by the Washington Post as "One of the seminal artworks of the century." Glass continued his work for music theater with composing his opera Satyagraha (1980), themed on the early life of Mahatma Gandhi and his experiences in South Africa. This piece also was a turning point for Glass, as it was his first one scored for symphony orchestra after about 15 years, even if the most prominent parts were still reserved for solo voices (but now operatic) and chorus. The Trilogy was completed with Akhnaten (1983°Z1984), a powerful vocal and orchestral composition sung in Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, and Ancient Egyptian. In addition, this opera featured an actor reciting ancient Egyptian texts in the language of the audience. Akhnaten was commissioned by the Stuttgart Opera in a production designed by Achim Freyer. It premiered simultaneously at the Houston Opera in a production designed by Peter Sellars. At the time of the commission, the Stuttgart Opera House was undergoing renovation, necessitating the use of a nearby playhouse with a smaller orchestra pit. Upon learning this, Glass and conductor Dennis Russell Davies visited the playhouse, placing music stands around the pit to determine how many players the pit could accommodate. The two found that they could not fit a full orchestra in the pit. Glass decided to eliminate the violins, which had the effect of "giving the orchestra a low, dark sound that came to characterize the piece and suited the subject very well." In the same year, Glass again collaborated with Robert Wilson on another opera, the CIVIL warS, which premiered at the Opera of Rome.
Theater music: Glass and Samuel Beckett
Glass's work for theater from this time (apart from his works for his ensemble and music theater) included many compositions for the group Mabou Mines, which he co-founded in 1970 . This work included further music (after the ground-breaking Play) for plays or adaptations from the prose by Samuel Beckett, such as The Lost Ones (1975), Cascando (1975), Mercier and Camier (1979), Endgame (1984), and Company (1984). Beckett approved of the Mabou Mines production The Lost Ones, but vehemently disapproved of the production of Endgame at the American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge, Massachusetts), which featured Joanne Akalaitis's direction and Glass's Prelude for timpani and double bass. In the end, though, he authorized the music for Company, four short, intimate pieces for string quartet that were played in the intervals of the dramatization. This piece was eventually published as a String Quartet (Glass's second) and as a concert piece for string orchestra.
Post minimalism: From the Violin Concerto to the Symphony No.3
Starting with the composition of operas and theater music, Glass has°Zespecially since the late 1980s and early 1990s°Zwritten works more accessible to ensembles such as the string quartet and symphony orchestra, in this returning to the structural roots of his student days. In taking this direction his chamber and orchestral works were also written in a more and more traditional and lyrical vein. In these works, Glass occasionally even employs old musical forms such as the Chaconne°Zfor instance in Satyagraha (1980), his Violin Concerto (1987) and Symphony No.3 (1995). In the same way, his pieces often allude to historical styles (Baroque, Western classical, early Romantic, and early 20th Century Western classical music), but mostly without abandoning his highly individual musical style or lapsing into mere pastiche.
A series of orchestral works that were originally composed for the concert hall commenced with an almost neo-baroque 3-movement Violin Concerto (1987) in the style of Akhnaten. Among its multiple recordings, in 1992, the Concerto was performed and recorded by Gidon Kremer and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. This turn to orchestral music was continued with a large-scale Sibelian symphonic Trilogy (the Light, the Canyon, Itaipu, 1987°Z1989), The Voyage, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and two 3-movement symphonies, "Low" 1992, and Symphony No.2 (1994). Glass described his Symphony No.2 as a study in polytonality and referred to the music of Honegger, Milhaud, and Villa-Lobos as possible models for his symphony, but the gloomy, brooding, dissonant tone of the piece seemed to be even more evocative of Dmitri Shostakovich's symphonies.
Central to his chamber music from the same time are the last two from a series of five string quartets that were written for the Kronos Quartet (1989 and 1991), and the piece Music from The Screens (1989). These works show a very different side of Glass's output. The Screens has its roots in a theater music collaboration with the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso and the director Joanne Akalaitis (Glass's first wife), and is, on occasion, a touring piece for Glass and Suso. Apart from Suso's influence, the musical texture is remotely evocative to classical European chamber music ranging from Bach's Sonatas and partitas for solo violin and the Suites for cello, to French chamber music such as Claude Debussy's and Maurice Ravel's work in this genre.
With Symphony No.3 (1995), commissioned by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, a more transparent, refined, and intimate chamber-orchestral style resurfaced after the excursions of his large-scale symphonic pieces (mirroring similar developments in the work of his contemporary and colleague Steve Reich). In its four movements, Glass treats a 19-piece string orchestra as an extended chamber ensemble, and seems to evoke early classicism, (Bach's string symphonies, and Haydn's early symphonies show some quite similar stylistic features), as well as the neo-classical music of Igor Stravinsky, B°Zla Bart°Zk, and again Ravel. In particular, the second movement is much freer than anything else before in Glass's output since 1966, whereas in the third, Glass re-uses the Chaconne as a formal device, creating haunting string textures. On the commercial recording of Symphony No.3, its companion piece is another Concerto (also 1995), written for The Rascher Saxophone Quartet, and also possibly inspired by Les Six and Mozart. Music for Piano: Metamorphosis and the Etudes
Since the late 1980s, Glass has written more works for solo piano, starting with a cycle of five pieces for a theatrical adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1988), with other pieces such as "Mad Rush"(1979), Witchita Vortex Sutra, A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close (2005) and continuing with his first volume of Etudes for Piano (1994-1995). The first six Etudes were originally commissioned by the conductor and pianist Dennis Russell Davies, but the complete first set is now often performed by Glass. The critic John Rockwell dismissed Metamorphosis (as well as all other works by Glass since Akhnaten) as "simplistic," but praised the Etudes as "powerful," comparing them to Bart°Zk's oeuvre for piano. Most of the Etudes are composed in the post-minimalist/more expressive style of the Second and Third Symphonies, and Saxophone Quartet Concerto as well as the opera triptych from the same period. A second opera triptych: Orph°Ze, La Belle et la B°Zte and Les Enfants Terribles
Glass's prolific output continued to include operas, especially a second opera, triptych (1993°Z1996), based on the work of Jean Cocteau, his prose and his films (Orph°Ze (1949), La Belle et la B°Zte (1946), and the novel Les Enfants Terribles, 1929, later made into a film by Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville, 1950). In the same way it is also a musical homage to the work of a French group of composers associated with Cocteau, Les Six.
Furthermore, in the first part of the trilogy, Orph°Ze (1993), the inspiration can be (conceptually and musically) traced to Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice (Orph°Ze et Euridyce, 1762/1774). One theme of the opera, the death of Eurydice, has some similarity to the composer's personal life: the opera was composed about a year after the unexpected death in 1991 of Glass's wife, artist Candy Jernigan: "(...) one can only suspect that Orpheus' grief must have resembled the composer's own." The opera's "transparency of texture, a subtlety of instrumental color" was praised, and The Guardian 's critic remarked "Glass has a real affinity for the French text and sets the words eloquently, underpinning them with delicately patterned instrumental textures.".
Les Enfants Terribles (1996, scored for voices and three pianos), is indebted in its writing for the piano ensemble, as Orphee, to another key musical work from the 18th century: Bach's Concerto for Four Harpsichords (or four pianos) in A minor, BWV1065. It is perhaps no coincidence that Bach's Concerto was part of the soundtrack for the 1950 film, as was Gluck's opera for Cocteau's 1949 film Orphee. Glass's continued activity in opera was a direct result of his original "opera", Einstein on the Beach. The work could only mounted in opera houses, thus the composer because a composer of "operas." With this introduction, the composer embarked what has become the largest part of his output, a composer of operas with now 22 to date.
Influences and connections
Philip Glass is acknowledged to be one of the most influential voices of the 20th Century. A great number of rock musicians (Bowie, Eno), composers of film (Elfman) and concert music, have credited him with influencing the sound of the 2nd half of the 20th Century.
Besides working in the Western classical tradition for the concert hall, opera, theater, and film, his music also has strong ties to rock, ambient music, electronic music, and world music. Early admirers included musicians Brian Eno and David Bowie, who acknowledged the influence of Glass's minimalist style. Years later, Glass, who had become friends with Bowie, composed certain pieces from themes of Bowie and Eno's collaborative albums Low and "Heroes", which were originally written in Berlin in the late 1970, in his first ("Low", 1992) and fourth ("Heroes", 1996) symphonies. In 1997, he released Music for Airports, featuring a live instrumental version of Brian Eno's work of the same name, performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars, on his Philips/PolyGram (now Universal Music Group-distributed on the composer's recording label POINT Music. Glass also collaborated with songwriters such as Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, Natalie Merchant, and the electronic-music artist Aphex Twin (resulting in an orchestration of Aphex Twin's piece Icct Hedral in 1995). Point Music eventually closed operatations, however, Glass continues to own a recording studio, which is frequented by artists such as David Bowie, Bj°Zrk, The Dandy Warhols, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop. Glass also influenced numerous musicians such as Mike Oldfield (he covered parts from Glass's North Star in Platinum) and bands including Tangerine Dream, Phish, Talking Heads, and Coldplay (°ZClocks,°Z A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002).
In 2002, Glass along with his longtime producer Kurt Munkacsi and artist Don Christensen, started the record label (Orange Mountain Music), dedicated to "establishing the recording legacy of Philip Glass" and have to date released ~40 albums of Philip Glass' music. Music for film
Music from Naqoyqatsi
From Naqoyqatsi by Philip Glass
The largest part of Glass's recent activity has been his many film scores, which almost accidentally started with the orchestral score for Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982), and continuing with two biopics, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, 1985, resulting in the String Quartet No.3) and Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997) about the Dalai Lama, for which he received his first Academy Award nomination. In 1988, Glass began a collaboration with the filmmaker Errol Morris with his score for Morris's celebrated documentary The Thin Blue Line. He continued composing for the Qatsi trilogy with the scores for Powaqqatsi (Reggio, 1988) and Naqoyqatsi (Reggio, 2002). He even made a cameo appearance in Peter Weir's The Truman Show (1998), which uses music from Powaqqatsi, Anima Mundi and Mishima, as well as three original tracks by Glass, performing at the piano. In 1999, he finished a new soundtrack for the 1931 film Dracula. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002), which earned him a second Academy Award nomination; Taking Lives (D. J. Caruso, 2004); and The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003) are his most notable scores for films from the early 2000s, containing older works but also newly composed music. He composed the score for Secret Window (David Koepp, 2004) as well as the music for Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992) and its sequel, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (Bill Condon, 1995), plus a film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1996). Most recently, Glass composed the score for Neil Burger's The Illusionist and Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal in 2006, garnering his third Academy Award nomination for the latter. Glass's newest film scores include Scott Hicks' No Reservations and Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream.
New directions: symphonies, chamber operas, and concerti
Glass's more lyrical and romantic styles came to a creative high with the Etudes for Piano and Les Enfants Terribles and furthermore in Godfrey Reggio's Naqoyqatsi (2002); in the chamber opera The Sound of a Voice (2003), as well as in the series of Concertos since 2000; and in three symphonies that are centered on the interplay of either vocalist or chorus and orchestra. Two symphonies written in a very similar style, Symphony No.5 "Choral" (1999) and Symphony No.7 "Toltec" (2004) in addition to his large cantata "The Passion of Ramakrishna", are based on religious or meditative themes, whereas Glass's operatic Symphony No.6 Plutonian Ode (2001), commissioned by the Brucknerhaus Linz and Carnegie Hall in honor of Glass's 65th birthday, started as a collaboration with the poet Allen Ginsberg (for reciter and piano°ZGinsberg and Glass), based on his poem by the same title. In this piece Glass explored new, more complicated and rich textures in a blend of the composer's most inspired efforts in both his technical expertise as a trained composer and also in reaching a new highpoint of expressiveness.
Encouraged largely by conductor Dennis Russell Davies to pursue concert music, Glass has written eight concertos to date. Beginning with the Violin Concerto of 1987, he wrote a Concerto Grosso in 1992 and a Saxophone Quartet Concerto of the same vein in 1995. Glass has returned to the form frequently since the year 2000. His Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra was premiere by Dennis Russell Davies as conductor and soloist, Glass' Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra has become one of his more popular and widely performed concert pieces. His Cello Concerto for cello and orchestra was premiered in Beijing in 2001 by the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, for whose 50th birthday it was written. This was followed by a neo-baroque Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra which exposed the composer's rigorous classical technique followed two years later with Glass Piano Concerto no.2 "After Lewis and Clark" which was inspired by a celebration of the pioneers' trip across the North American continent.
Recent works: Waiting for the Barbarians and the Symphony No.8
Glass's most recent piece of musical theater is his first opera on a grand scale in eight years, Waiting for the Barbarians, after J.M. Coetzee's novel, with a libretto by Christopher Hampton. It premiered in September 2005.
Only two months later, in November 2005, a Symphony No.8, commissioned by the Bruckner Orchester Linz, was premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. After three symphonies for voices and orchestra, this piece is a return to purely orchestral composition, and like previous works written for the conductor Dennis Russell Davies (the 1992 Concerto Grosso and the already mentioned Symphony No.3), it features extended solo writing (not unlike in the late 18th-Century Sinfonia concertante or B°Zla Bart°Zk's Concerto for Orchestra). Critic Allan Kozinn described the symphony's chromaticism as more extreme, more fluid, and its themes and textures as continually changing, morphing without repetition, and he especially pointed out the "unpredictable orchestration" of the symphony, mentioning a "beautiful flute and harp variation in the melancholy second movement."
Glass has also worked alongside Leonard Cohen on an adaptation of Cohen's poetry collection Book of Longing. The work, which premiered in June, 2007, in Toronto, Canada, is a piece for seven instruments and a vocal quartet, and contains recorded spoken word performances by Cohen and imagery from his collection. Glass's work "Songs and Poems" for solo cello was premiered in 2007.
Among new works in various stages of completion: Appomattox a new opera surrounding the events at the end of the American Civil War (2007); two symphonies (2007/08); a second Violin Concerto; and a second Volume of Etudes for piano.
recorded/sequenced on the Reuter opus #822 pipe organ, October 1, 2007
return to previous page.
Return to Reuter822.com mainpage