Philip Glass

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Philip Glass looks upon sheet music in a portrait taken by Annie Leibovitz.
Philip Glass looks upon sheet music in a portrait taken by Annie Leibovitz.

Philip Glass (born January 31, 1937) is an American composer. His music is frequently described as minimalist, though he prefers the term theatre music. He 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 recognised by the broader market.


Life and Work

Glass was born in Baltimore, Maryland and studied the flute as a child at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago at the age of 16, where he studied Mathematics and Philosophy. He then went on to the Julliard School of Music where he switched to mostly play the keyboard; his composition teachers included Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma. A next step was Paris, where he studied with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, analysing scores of Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. After the work with Ravi Shankar in France on a film score (Chappaqua), Glass travelled, mainly for religious reasons, to north India in 1966, where he came in contact with Tibetan refugees. He became a Buddhist, and met Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 1972. He is a strong supporter of the Tibetan cause.

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 Milhaud-like and Copland-like compositions and began writing austere pieces based on additive rhythms and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett, whose work he encountered when he was writing for experimental theater.

Finding little sympathy from traditional performers and performance spaces, Glass formed an ensemble in the late 60s with fellow ex-students Steve Reich, Jon Gibson and others, and began performing mainly in art galleries, these galleries being the only real connection between musical minimalism and minimalist visual art. After certain differences of opinion with Reich he formed his own Philip Glass Ensemble. Apart from performing with his ensemble 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 made friends with other New York based artists like Sol Lewitt, Nancy Graves, Laurie Anderson and Chuck Close. His works grew increasingly less austere and more complex, and in his consideration, not minimalist at all, culminating in the four-hour-long Music in Twelve Parts (1971-1974), which ironically uses a twelve-note theme as the material of the last part.

He then collaborated on the first opera of his portrait opera trilogy Einstein on the Beach with Robert Wilson (composed in 1975 and first performed in 1976), featuring his ensemble, solo violin, chorus and actors. The trilogy was continued with Satyagraha (1980), themed on the early life of Mahatma Gandhi and his experiences in South Africa. This piece was Glass' first one scored for symphony orchestra after about 15 years, even if the most prominent parts were still reserved for solo voices and chorus. The Trilogy was completed with Akhnaten (1983-1984), a powerful vocal and orchestral composition sung in Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian. In addition this opera featured an actor, reciting ancient Egyptian texts in the language of the audience. Now the orchestra moved to the foreground, and violins were completely omitted, "giving the orchestra a low, dark sound that came to characterize the piece and suited the subject very well" (Music by Philip Glass, DaCapo Press, 1985, p.170).

Starting with the composition of these operas, Glass has (especially since the late 1980s and early 1990s) increasingly written for more accessible ensembles such as the string quartet and symphony orchestra, in this returning to the stylistical roots of his student days. With taking this direction his chamber and orchestral works were also written in a more and more traditional and lyrical vein, and do allude to older (baroque, classical, romantic and neoclassicist) styles without abandoning his musical style or lapsing into mere pastiche.

A series of orchestral works commenced with an excellent, almost neo-baroque three-movement Violin Concerto (1987) in the idiom of Akhnaten and was continued with a bombastic large-scale Sibelian symphonic Trilogy (The Light, The Canyon, Itaipu, 1987-1989). With the Symphony No.3 (1995), comissioned by the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, a more 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 collague Steve Reich). In its four movements Glass treats a 19-piece string orchestra as an extended chamber ensemble, and seems to evoke early classicism (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's string symphonies and Haydn's early symphonies show some quite similar stylistic features), as well as the music of Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok. The companion piece to the symphony is another Concerto (also 1995), comissioned by The Raschér Saxophone Quartet; in this work the stylistical shadows of Les Six, Mozart and Beethoven seem to hover in the backgound.

Central to his chamber music from the same time are the last two from a series of five string quartets which were written for the Kronos Quartet (1989 and 1991) and the piece Music from The Screens (1989). It has its roots in a theatre music collaboration with the West-African musician Foday Musa Suso and the director Joanne Akalaitis (Glass' first wife), and is on occasions 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 Solosuites for violin and cello and to french chamber such as Claude Debussy's work in this genre.

Philip Glass' prolific output also continued to include operas, and especially a second opera trilogy (1993-1996) based on the work of Jean Cocteau, his prose and his films: Orphée (1949), La belle et la bête (1946) and the novel Les Enfants Terribles, 1929, later made into a film (1950). In addition it can also be regarded as a musical homage to the work of Claude Debussy, Erik Satie and Les Six (as in the Saxophone Quartet Concerto). Furthermore, in the first part of the trilogy, Orphée, the inspiration can be (conceptionally and musically) traced to Gluck's opera Orphée et Euridyce (1762/1774), as pointed out by the writer K. Robert Schwarz in his book Minimalists, 1996. The piece was praised by critics as Schwarz as well as by the Guardian critic Andrew Clements - "Glass has a real affinity for the French text and sets the words eloquently, underpinning them with delicately patterned instrumental textures (...), every note beautifully judged."

Glass's work for theater apart from music theatre includes many compositions for the group Mabou Mines, which he co-founded in 1970, most importantly further music (after Play) for plays or adaptions from the prose by Samuel Beckett, such as The Lost Ones (1975), Cascando (1975), Mercier and Camier (1979), Endgame (1984) and Company (1984). Beckett disapproved of Glass' Prelude for timpani and double-bass (and the production under JoAnne Akalaitis' direction) for Endgame at the American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge, Massachusetts), but in the end authorised the music for Company - four short pieces for string quartet, which were played in the "interstices" (how Beckett described it) of the dramatization.

Besides working in the classical tradition for theater and film his music also has strong connections to Rock, Electronic and world music. His audiences in the early 1970s also included musicians such as Brian Eno and David Bowie, who were deeply impressed by Glass' extremly unorthodox style. Years later Glass orchestrated some of Bowie's and Eno's music from the albums Low and "Heroes" (originally written in Berlin in the late 1970s) in his first (Low Symphony, 1992) and fourth ("Heroes" Symphony, 1996) symphonies. He worked also with Aphex Twin (the result was an orchestration of Aphex Twin's piece Icct Hedral, in 1995), and with songwriters such as Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, and Natalie Merchant. Mike Oldfield covered parts from Glass's North Star, while bands including Tangerine Dream and Coldplay (Clocks, A Rush of Blood to the Head, 2002), and film composers such as John Williams, James Horner, Howard Shore, Carter Burwell and Jon Brion are all influenced by Glass's musical style.

Glass himself has also written many film scores, almost accidentally starting with his work for Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and continuing with Mishima (Paul Schrader, 1985), Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997), The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002), Taking Lives (2004), and The Fog of War (Errol Morris, 2003).

A recent development in Philip Glass's oeuvre is a tendency to juxtapose his recent, more lyrical and traditional style with more austere and repetitive sections or movements (a certain kind of retrospect to his music of the 70s or early 80s), e.g. in the film music for Martin Scorsese's Kundun (1997) and Godfrey Reggio's Naqqoyqatsi (2002) or in his Etudes for Piano, Vol.1 (Etudes No.9 and 10) (1994-1995). The same trend can also be detected in the series of Concertos since 2000 (with mixed results), in the Chamber Opera The Sound of a Voice (2003) and in three symphonies which are centered on the interplay of either vocalist or chorus and orchestra. Two symphonies written in a very similar idiom - Symphony No.5 (1999) and Symphony No.7 (2004), are based on religious or meditative themes, whereas Glass' Symphony No.6 Plutonian Ode (2001) started as a collaboration with the poet Allen Ginsberg based on his poem by the same title. In this piece Glass explored new, more complicated and dissonant textures in the first and second movement, only to return in the third movement to a sort of additive process with haunting and surprisingly fresh results.

Glass' most recent piece of music theatre is his first opera on a grand scale in eight years, Waiting for the Barbarians, after J.M. Coetzee's novel, and with a libretto by Christopher Hampton. It premiered in September 2005.

A Symphony No.8 was premiered only two months later, in November 2005. After the three symphonies for voices and orchestra this piece is a return to purely orchestral composition, and like previous works comissioned by the conductor Dennis Russel Davies (the Concerto Grosso and the already mentioned Symphony No.3) it features extended solo writing (not unlike in the late 18th century Sinfonia concertante or Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra). Allan Kozinn describes the chromaticism (which surfaced in Glass' work for the first time in Koyaanisqatsi) of the piece in the New York Times as more extreme, more fluid and its themes and textures as continually changing, morphing without repetition. He especially praises the "unpredictable orchestration" of the piece, and pointing out a "flute and harp variation in the melancholy second movement" as especially beautiful.

Future works include the choral work The Passion of Ramakrishna (2006), a film score for Paul Auster's The Inner Life of Martin Frost, and a second Volume of Etudes for piano.


Works for the Philip Glass Ensemble


Chamber Operas

Works for solo piano

  • How Now for piano (1968)
  • Two Pages (for Steve Reich) for piano (or electric organ) (1969)
  • Modern Love Waltz for piano (1977)
  • Fourth Series Part Four (Mad Rush) for piano (1979)
  • Trilogy Sonata for piano (1975/1979/1983, from Einstein, Sathyagraha and Akhnaten, arranged by Paul Barnes in 2001)
  • Cadenzas for Mozart's Piano Concerto No.21 (K. 467, 1786) (1987)
  • Metamorphosis for piano (1988)
  • Wichita Sutra Vortex for piano (1988)
  • The French Lieutenant Sleeps from The Screens for piano (1989)
  • Night on the Balcony from The Screens for piano (or harpsichord) (1989)
  • Tesra for piano (1993)
  • The Orphée Suite for piano (1993, transcribed by Paul Barnes in 2000)
  • Overture from La Belle et la Bete for piano (1994, transcribed by Michael Riesman)
  • Etudes for piano, Volume 1 (1994-1995)
  • Music from the Hours for piano (2003, transcribed by Michael Riesman and Nico Muhly)
  • A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close, two pieces for piano (2005)

Works for two pianos

  • In and Out Again for two pianos (1967)
  • Six Scenes from Les Enfants Terribles for two pianos (1996, transcribed by Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies)

Chamber Music

  • Three String Quartets (from the early 1960s, withdrawn)
  • Play for two saxophones (1965, music for Samuel Beckett's play)
  • String Quartet No.1 (1966)
  • Music in the shape of a Square for two flutes (1967)
  • Head On for violin, cello and piano (1967)
  • Another Look at Harmony, Part III for clarinet and piano (1975)
  • Fourth Series Part Three for violin and clarinet (1978)
  • String Quartet No.2 Company (1983, composed for a dramatization of Samuel Beckett's novella)
  • Prelude to Endgame for timpani and double-bass (1984, for the play by Samuel Beckett)
  • String Quartet No.3 Mishima (1985)
  • String Quartet No.4 Buczak (1989)
  • Music from The Screens for chamber ensemble (1989, a collaboration with Foday Musa Suso)
  • The Orchard from The Screens for violin and piano (1989)
  • Cymbeline for ensemble (1991, music for the play by William Shakespeare)
  • String Quartet No.5 (1991)
  • Love Divided By for flute and piano (1992)
  • In the Summer House for violin and cello (1993, music for the play by Jane Bowles)
  • Concerto for Saxophone Quartet (1995, also orchestral version)
  • Dracula for string quartet (or piano and string quartet) (1998, music for the 1931 film)
  • Music from The Sound of a Voice for flute, pipa, violin, cello and percussion (2003)

Works for Solo Instruments

Works for orchestra (with chorus and voices)

  • Company for string orchestra (1983, composed for a dramatization of Samuel Beckett's novella)
  • Phaedra for string orchestra and percussion (1985)
  • In the Upper Room for chamber orchestra (1986, music for Twyla Tharp's dance piece)
  • The Light for orchestra (1987)
  • The Canyon for orchestra (1988)
  • Itaipu, a symphonic portrait for chorus and orchestra in four movements (1989)
  • Passages for chamber orchestra (a collaboration with Ravi Shankar) (1990)
  • Concerto Grosso for chamber orchestra (1992)
  • Symphony No.1 Low for orchestra (1992)
  • T.S.E. (T.S. Eliot) for voices and ensemble (1994, music for a theatre work by Robert Wilson)
  • Symphony No.2 for orchestra (1994)
  • Symphony No.3 for 19 string players (1995)
  • Symphony No.4 Heroes for orchestra (1996)
  • Songs of Milarepa for baritone and chamber orchestra (1997)
  • Days and Nights of Rocinha, Dance for orchestra (1997)
  • Psalm 126 for orchestra and chorus (1998)
  • Symphony No.5 (Choral) Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1999)
  • Dancissimo for orchestra (2001)
  • Symphony No.6 Plutonian Ode for soprano and orchestra (2001)
  • Symphony No.7 Toltec for orchestra and chorus (2004)
  • Symphony No.8 for orchestra (2005)
  • The Passion of Ramakrishna for chorus and orchestra (2006)

Works for solo instruments and orchestra (Concertos etc.)

  • Concerto For Violin and Orchestra (1960, withdrawn)
  • Facades for two saxophones (or flute and clarinet) and string orchestra (1981)
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1987)
  • Echorus for two violins and string orchestra (1995, version of the Etude No.2 for piano)
  • Concerto No.1 for Piano and String Orchestra Tirol (2000)
  • Concerto for Two Timpani Players and Orchestra (2000)
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2001)
  • Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orchestra (2002)
  • Suite from The Hours for piano, string orchestra, harp and percussion (2002/2003)
  • Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra After Lewis and Clark(2004)

Vocal Works

Works for chorus

  • Another Look at Harmony, Part IV for chorus and organ (1975)
  • Fourth Series Part One for chorus and organ (1977)
  • Three Songs for chorus a-cappella (1984, texts by Octavio Paz and others)

Works for organ

  • Fourth Series Part Two (Dance No.2) for organ (1978)
  • Fourth Series Part Four (Mad Rush) for organ (1979)
  • Voices for organ, didgeridoo and narrator (2001)

Film scores

Glass has scored many films, including:

For further information on his works, complete lists and instrumentation see Philip Glass' Official Web site and the Web site of Chester Music and Novello.

Selected Discography

Minimalist Works

  • Music in Twelve Parts, Parts 1&2 (Virgin, 1974)
  • North Star (1977)
  • Music with Changing Parts (1994)
  • Music in Similar Motion/ Music in Fifths/ Two Pages (1994)
  • Music in Twelve Parts (1996, new recording)
  • Early Voice (2002)
  • Alter Ego: Music in the shape of a Square/ Gradus/ Strung Out etc. (2002)

For Piano

  • Solo Piano (1989)
  • The Orphée Suite for piano (2003)
  • Etudes for Piano, Vol. I, nos. 1-10 (2003)
  • Six Scenes from "Les Enfant Terribles" (2005)

Concertos, Symphonies etc.

  • Violin Concerto (Gidon Kremer/ Vienna Philharmonic/ Christoph von Dohnanyi) (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
  • "Low" Symphony (Brooklyn Philharmonic/ Dennis Russel Davies) (Point Music, 1993)
  • Itaipu/ The Canyon (Atlanta Symphony/ Robert Shaw) (Sony Classical, 1993)
  • Symphony No.2 (Nonesuch, 1998) including Saxophone Quartet Concerto & Orphée Interlude
  • Symphony No.3 (Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/ Dennis Russel Davies) (Nonesuch, 2000)
  • Symphony No.5 (Vienna Radio Symphony/ Dennis Russel Davies) (Nonesuch, 2000)
  • Violin Concerto / Prelude and Dance from Akhnaten / Company (Adele Anthony/ Ulster Orchestra/ Takuo Yuasa) (Naxos, 2000)
  • Symphony No.2 and No.3 (Bournemouth Symphony/ Marin Alsop) (Naxos, 2004)
  • Symphony No.6 "Plutonian Ode" (Orange Mountain Music, to be released in the end of 2005)

Chamber Music and Albums with other Musicians

  • Passages (1990) with Ravi Shankar
  • Music from the Screens (1993) with Foday Musa Suso
  • Kronos Quartet performs Philip Glass (string quartets No.2-No.5)(1995)


  • Einstein on the Beach (Two Recordings, 1979 and 1993)
  • the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. Act V - The Rome Section (1999)
  • Les Enfants Terribles (2005)

Film Music

  • Kundun (1997)
  • The Truman Show (1998)
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1998, new recording)
  • The Hours (2002)


  • William Bartman, Joanne Kesten (editors). The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of his subjects (A.R.T. Press, New York, 1997)
  • Robert T. Jones (ed.), Philip Glass. Music By Philip Glass (Da Capo Press, 1987)
  • James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (Grove Press, 2004)
  • Joan La Barbara, Philip Glass and Steve Reich: Two from the Steady State School, 1974 and Ev Grimes, Interview: Education, 1989. Both articles from: Richard Kostelanetz, Robert Flemming (Editors). Writings on Glass. Essays, Interviews, Criticism (University of California Press, 1999)
  • Janet Kraynak (ed.). Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman's Words (Writing and Interviews) (MIT Press, Cambridge, London, 2003, 2005 paperback edition)
  • K. Robert Schwartz. Minimalists (Phaidon Press, 1996)

External links

Official Site

Other Sites




Articles, Reviews etc.

See also

Personal tools