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The Oscar nominations: Philip Glass

Okay, I have to be honest, I haven’t seen Notes on a Scandal yet. But from the reviews I have read on IMDB it sounds like Judi Dench was incredible. As screenhead writes, “Judi Dench is always amazing but this is one of her best performances of late. The camera and her character are frightfully unflattering but Dame Dench uses this to her full advantage.” Now that the Oscar nominations are out, and Notes on a Scandal has received four it might be time to hit the theaters. I was most interested in Philip Glass‘s Oscar nomination for “best original score, ” so I went to Grove Music Online and found this article by Edward Strickland. Check it out.

(b Baltimore, 31 Jan 1937).
American composer and performer. Along with Reich, Riley and Young, he was a principal figure in the establishment of minimalism in the 1960s. He has since become one of the most commercially successful, and critically reviled, composers of his generation.

Childhood and early training

He began to study the violin at the age of six, then at eight the flute with Britton Johnson at the Peabody Conservatory. At 12 he started composing, while taking harmony lessons with Louis Cheslock and working in his father’s record shops after school. He left school at 15 for the University of Chicago (BA in Liberal Arts 1956) under their early entrance programme. In Chicago he was a piano pupil of Marcus Rasking, who introduced him to the 12-note technique, which he then adopted but abandoned by graduation. In 1956–7 he took extension courses at the Juilliard School, and then returned to Baltimore for six months to earn enough money as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel to finance formal Juilliard studies. He enrolled in late 1957 (diploma in composition 1959; MA in composition 1961), studying with Bergsma (1957–9) and Persichetti (1959–61) and followed them in composing in the tonal vein of the American Symphonist school. He studied analysis in Milhaud’s summer class at Aspen in 1960, and privately with fellow student Albert Fine, who had studied with Boulanger. Of some 70 compositions in widely varied genres at Juilliard, almost all were performed by fellow students and a few published by Elkan-Vogel (later subsumed by Presser), of which Persichetti was the editor. Foreshadowing his mature work Glass also wrote music for the dance department and took a course in film scoring.

Emergence of minimalism.

In Pittsburgh from 1961 to 1963 on a Ford Foundation grant, Glass continued to write for a variety of ensembles – this time selected from the city’s schools – with many compositions published by Elkan-Vogel. Then on a Fulbright scholarship he went to Paris to study for two years with Boulanger (he had already spent the summer of 1954 studying French there) in what he describes as a re-education in the elements of music, during which time he composed little. Unimpressed by the avant-garde establishment represented by Boulez, Glass encountered a more important influence in the additive processes and cyclic structures of Indian music when he was hired by the film director Conrad Rooks to transcribe for Western musicians Ravi Shankar’s score for the phantasmagoric Chappaqua. Although Glass also provided some conventionally ‘modern’ music for sections of the film, his minimalist style was now beginning to emerge, most particularly in the spare lines of the theatre pieces he wrote in 1965 for what would become the Mabou Mines troupe (all works before this have since been disavowed). The score for Beckett’s Play comprised the overlapping of two soprano saxophones, each assigned a single interval multiply repeated in different rhythms, while Music for Ensemble and Two Actresses – foreshadowing the voice-overs of the libretto of Einstein on the Beach – included a soufflé recipe declaimed over a wind sextet. The 1966 String Quartet is a more significant representative of Glass’s transitional style, with its repetition of cells and strict formal subdivision into component modules recurring in different voices. It does not, however, reveal any particular Indian influence and lacks the bare-boned tonality of his subsequent works (chromaticism and dissonance abound and, though the work is not serial, all 12 tones are introduced at the start). Furthermore, the underlying structural principle is that of symmetry rather than additive cycles; despite its uninflected metre, the work does not exhibit the rock-like pulsation of his later New York works.

After leaving Paris, Glass travelled in North Africa and the Indian subcontinent. He returned to New York early in 1967 and on 18 March he visited the Park Place Gallery for a concert of Reich’s music performed by the composer and Arthur Murphy, both Juilliard acquaintances, along with Jon Gibson, Tenney and Corner. Reich and Glass began analysing one another’s works, while performing in each other’s ensembles (Reich in that of Glass until May 1970, Glass less frequently in Reich’s until 1971).

Glass’s works in 1967 progress from Strung Out, Music in the Shape of a Square and In Again Out Again to the fully-fledged additive process of One Plus One (originally 1+1), written when he began lessons with Alla Rakha, Shankar’s long-time tabla accompanist, who was living in New York. It is here rather than in Paris that the Indian influence comes to the fore. Interestingly, One Plus One (possibly because of its unusual scoring of hands rapping on a table-top with a microphone attachment) was the only one of these pieces not played in the first public performances of Glass’s new music in 1968 – at Queens College (13 April), at the New School (9 May, Strung Out only), and at the Filmmakers’ Cinemathèque (19 May), which Glass considers to be his début. There Dorothy Pixley-Rothschild, Glass and Gibson were the respective soloists in Strung Out, How Now and Gradus (originally entitled for Jon Gibson, indicating the direction of the soprano saxophone’s melodic line). Glass formed a flute duo with Gibson in Music in the Shape of a Square, and a keyboard duo with Reich in In Again Out Again.

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s Glass developed a wholly distinctive ensemble style of highly amplified, diatonic, harmonically static, additive and subtractive cycles in mechanical rhythms and intially in simple unison – a music more evocative of rock than any classical Western style, much less the serialism and late modernism of the period. In the process the Philip Glass Ensemble was established: Gibson was joined in the wind section by Dickie Landry, Richard Peck, Jack Kripl and Richard Prado; later keyboard players included Steve Chambers and Michael Riesman, who was also to conduct many of Glass’s works. The amplified keyboard and woodwind instruments that formed the core of the ensemble were occasionally supplemented for specific pieces by voices (e.g. sopranos Iris Hiskey and Dora Ohrenstein), and the occasional string player (e.g. cellist Beverly Lauridsen and violinist Barbara Benary). Kurt Munkacsi, the sound engineer who had worked in recording sessions with John Lennon, joined the ensemble in 1970 and helped in Glass’s first recordings on the Chatham Square label which began the following year.

Glass reached full maturity as a composer at this time, and his period of minimalism proper includes works entitled with similarly minimal directness: Two Pages (originally Two Pages for Steve Reich), Music in Contrary Motion, Music in Fifths, Music in Similar Motion, Music in Eight Parts, Music for Voices, Music with Changing Parts and Music in Twelve Parts. Other works from these years have subsequently been considered experimental ephemera and withdrawn, e.g. 6oo Lines, comprising a score projected for the players on film slides, and Long Beach Island, Word Location, 32 speakers with tape-loops of the word ‘is’ in an outdoor installation by the sculptor Richard Serra.

Apart from four more works for Mabou Mines, until the late 1970s Glass wrote exclusively for his own ensemble – for the simple reason that no other group would (or perhaps could) play his work. Initially, then, it was crucial for him to maintain the ensemble as his only public voice; later, when others took an interest, he resisted releasing performance rights in order to ensure that the ensemble would remain employed on international tours. Performances at this time were held in New York lofts (Glass’s in Greenwich Village, sculptor Donald Judd’s in SoHo), private art galleries (those of Leo Castelli and Paula Cooper) and museums (the Guggenheim and the Whitney). At the Whitney both Glass and Reich appeared as part of a 1969 multimedia exhibition called ‘Anti-Illusion: Materials/Procedures’. The post-minimalist process art of melting blocks of ice (Rafael Ferrer) and films of dripping water (Michael Snow) was complemented by the ‘process music’ of Glass’s additive cycles and Reich’s self-propelled phasing and feedback pieces. Significantly, Glass’s compositions, adumbrating his later multimedia work, were played during short films of hands by Serra, for whom he worked as a studio assistant when not surviving as a plumber or taxi-driver, or touring with his ensemble in the USA, Canada and Europe. The places in which they performed remained unconventional, including concerts at the nightclub and restaurant Max’s Kansas City and in public parks in each of the five boroughs of New York. The first traditional concert hall to include Glass’s music was New York’s Town Hall, which Glass himself hired in 1974 to put on the complete Music in Twelve Parts, composed in sections over more than three years. The ‘twelve parts’ of the title had originally referred simply to the vertical texture, but Glass decided to extend the work from one to twelve sections (and over four hours). The work marks the culmination of Glass’s minimalism, which, taken as a whole, may be seen to have moved progressively in the direction of greater vertical complexity – from unison through parallel intervals and multiple parts to the functional harmony in the conclusion of Music in Twelve Parts. In its embrace of functional harmony, it marks a transition into what Rockwell has termed the ‘maximalism’ of his work from Einstein on the Beach onwards. Even more than other minimalist composers, Glass collaborated extensively with downtown visual and theatrical artists during this period of artistic cross-pollination.

Dramatic works.

Einstein on the Beach, which brought Glass immediate fame after its American première at the Metropolitan Opera on 21 November 1976, was a collaboration with Robert Wilson, whose mixed-media work has been variously termed a ‘theatre of visions’ or ‘theatre of images’, combining media in a non-sequential manner more reminiscent of dream than the conventional linear narrative of opera. In place of plot there is a series of dramatized icons drawn from Einstein’s life (such as his violin) and work (such as the trains of the theory of relativity) and their implications (such as a trial, a spaceship). The libretto consists of solfège and numbers, originally used to train the singers in pitch and rhythm and left unrevised, and the sometimes evocative and often incoherent notebook jottings by Christopher Knowles, a special-education student of Wilson, with monologues by cast members Lucinda Childs and Samuel M. Johnson. The opera combined some of Glass’s most propulsive music with choreography by Andrew de Groat (Childs choreographed her own solos) and bizarre costume, lighting and stage design in a five-hour performance which the audience was invited to exit and re-enter at will.

Einstein in good part determined the direction of Glass’s subsequent career: he has primarily become a composer of music for the theatre, film and dance rather than for the concert hall. Interestingly, Glass has commented that he ‘was able to condense the music’ (Glass, 1987, p.56) for the first recording of Einstein (Tomato, TOM-4-2901, 1979), cutting the first Trial scene from 40 to 20 minutes. That he was able to do this (the number of clearly specified cellular repetitions in earlier works notwithstanding) may suggest the somewhat arbitrary nature of a musical exfoliation dictated more by process than by theme. It may also suggest that although Glass’s style of ‘repetitive music’ is essentially formalist, it may be inherently ancillary (multimedia aside, early minimalism – not only that of Glass – was often put to use as a ‘trance’ accompaniment to meditation or the taking of drugs). Glass himself has played down his success by attributing it to good work habits and to his being the ‘theatre composer’ among his contemporaries.

His next two large-scale dramatic works, Satyagraha (1980) and Akhnaten (1984), form along with Einstein an unpremeditated trilogy of ‘character operas’, a category Glass has used, though he has also frequently expressed his preference for the less limiting term of ‘music theatre’. Satyagraha is a somewhat awkward hybrid, both in terms of its orchestration – an orchestral translation of the Philip Glass Ensemble – and in its conception of Gandhi, a mixture of hagiography, fairy tale and comic book; the intermittent sublimity of the work is dwarfed by its absurdity. Akhnaten is more successful: a study of the Egyptian pharoah who introduced monotheism, it is much the most affecting of the three, and also the most traditional in form and style. Glass considers it his ‘tragic’ opera, after the ‘apocalyptic’ Einstein and ‘lyrical’ Satyagraha; it also marks his approach to more conventional instrumental forces and linear narrative as opposed to tableaux.


dramatic and multimedia

    • Music for Ensemble and Two Actresses, wind sextet, 2 spkrs, 1965; Paris
    • Einstein on the Beach (op, 4, C. Knowles, S.M. Johnson, L. Childs), 1975–6, collab. R. Wilson; Avignon Festival, 25 July 1976
    • Dance (multimedia perf., choreog. Childs), 1979; Amsterdam, 19 Oct 1979
    • Mad Rush (dance piece, choreog. Childs), 1979 [from org work Fourth Series, part 4, 1979]
    • A Madrigal Opera, 1980; Amsterdam, Carré, 25 June 1980 [orig. title Attaca (1980), then The Panther (1981)]
    • Satyagraha (op, 3, C. DeJong, after the Bhagavad Gita), 1980; Rotterdam, Netherlands Opera, 5 Sept 1980
    • The Photographer (music theatre, 3, Glass and R. Malasch), 1982; Amsterdam, Netherlands Opera, 30 May 1982
    • Akhnaten (op, 3, Glass and others), 1983; Stuttgart, Staatsoper, 24 March 1984
    • Glass Pieces (ballet, choreog. J. Robbins), 1983 [from Glassworks and op Akhnaten]; New York, Lincoln Center
    • the CIVIL warS ‘a tree is best measured when it is down’ (music theatre, M. di Nascemi and Wilson), 1984, collab. Wilson; Rome, 22 March 1984; concert perf., Los Angeles, Nov 1984
    • The Juniper Tree (chbr op, prol., 2, A. Yorinks, after J.L. and W.C. Grimm), 1984, collab. R. Moran; Cambridge, MA, American Repertory, 11 Dec 1985
    • A Descent into the Maelstrom (dance theatre piece, M. Maguire, after E.A. Poe, choreog. M. Fenley), 1985; Adelaide
    • In the Upper Room (dance piece, choreog. T. Tharp), 1986
    • The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (op, 3, D. Lessing), 1986; Houston, Grand Opera, 8 July 1988
    • Phaedra (ballet), 1986; Dallas [from film score Mishima, 1984]
    • Pink Noise (installation), 1987, collab. R. Serra; Columbus, OH, Wexner Center


  • 1000 Airplanes on the Roof (music theatre, Glass, D. Hwang and J. Serlin), 1988; Vienna, International Airport Hangar no.3, 15 July 1988
  • Hydrogen Jukebox (music theatre, 2, A. Ginsberg), 1990; concert perf., Philadelphia, 29 April 1990; staged Charleston, SC, 26 May 1990
  • The White Raven (op, 5, L. Costa Gomaz), 1991; Lisbon, 26 Sept 1998
  • The Voyage (op, 3, Hwang), 1992; New York, Met, 12 Oct 1992
  • Orphée (chbr op, 2, J. Cocteau), 1993 [setting of screenplay from film Orphée, dir. Cocteau]; Cambridge, MA, American Repertory, 14 May 1993
  • La belle et la bête (op, Cocteau), 1994 [setting of screenplay from film La belle et la bête, dir. Cocteau]; Seville, Maestranza, 4 June 1994
  • T.S.E. (installation with perf.), 1994; Philadelphia, Annenberg Center
    Witches of Venice (ballet), 1995
  • Les enfants terribles (dance op, Cocteau), 1996 [setting of screenplay from film Les enfants terribles, dir. Cocteau]; Zug, Theatre Casino, 18 May 1996
  • The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five (op, 2, Lessing), 1997; Heidelberg, Stadt, 10 May 1997
  • Monsters of Grace (music theatre), 1998, collab. Wilson; Los Angeles, UCLA Center for the Performing Arts, 15 April 1998
  • In the Penal Colony (music theatre, F. Kafka), 2000; Seattle, Falls Theatre, 17 Sept 2000

incidental music

  • Play (S. Beckett), 1965; Red Horse Animation (Breuer), 1968; Music for Voices, 1970; The Lost Ones (Beckett), 1975; The Saint and the Football Player (Thibeau and Breuer), 1975; Dressed Like an Egg (after Colette), 1977; Company (Beckett), 1983, arr. as Str Qt no.2, 1983, orchd 1983; Pages from Cold Harbor (Worsley and Raymond), 1983; Endgame (Beckett), 1984; The Screens (J. Genet), 1990, collab. F.M. Suso; Cymbeline (W. Shakespeare), 1991; Mysteries and What’s So Funny (Gordon), 1991; Henry IV, Parts I and II (Shakespeare), 1992; In the Summer House (Bowles), 1993; Woyzeck (G. Büchner), 1993

film scores

  • North Star, 1977 [for film Mark Di Suvero, Sculptor]; Geometry of a Circle, 1979; Koyaanisqatsi (dir. G. Reggio), 1982; Mishima (dir. P. Schrader), 1984; Hamburger Hill (dir. J. Irvin), 1987; Powaqqatsi (dir. Reggio), 1987; The Thin Blue Line (dir. E. Morris), 1988; Mindwalk, 1990; A Brief History of Time (dir. Morris), 1991; Merci la Vie (dir. B. Blier), 1991; Anima mundi (dir. Reggio), 1992; Candyman (dir. B. Rose), 1992; Compassion in Exile, 1992; Candyman II (dir. B. Condon), 1995; Jenipopo, 1995; The Secret Agent (dir. C. Hampton), 1995; Bent (dir. S. Mathias), 1996; Kundun (dir. M. Scorsese), 1997; The Truman Show (dir. P. Weir), 1998; Dracula (dir. T. Browning), 1999


  • Choral: Knee Play no.3, SATB, 1976 [from op Einstein on the Beach]; Another Look at Harmony, pt 4, SATB, org, 1977; Fourth Series, pt 1, SATB, org, 1977; the CIVIL warS (Rome Section), S, A, T, Bar, B, SATB, orch, 1984 [from music theatre piece, 1984]; Music from the CIVIL warS (Cologne section), opt. SATB, orch, 1984 [from music theatre piece, 1984]; The Olympian ‘The Lighting of the Torch’, chorus, orch, 1984, arr. pf, 1984; 3 Songs (O. Paz, R. Levesque, L. Cohen), SATB, 1986; Itaipu, SATB, orch, 1988; Sym. no.5 ‘Requiem, Bardo, Nirmanakya’ (various texts), S, Mez, T, Bar, B, SATB, children’s chorus, orch, 1999
  • Other vocal: Habeve Song, S, cl, bn, 1982; Vessels, S, S, Mez, T, Bar, B, kbd, 1983 [from film score Koyaanisqatsi, 1982]; Hymn to the Sun, Ct, orch, 1984 [from op Akhnaten, 1983]; Songs from Liquid Days, 1v, insts, 1986, arr. 1v, pf: Changing Opinion (P. Simon), Forgetting (L. Anderson), Freezing (S. Vega), Lightning (D. Byrne), Liquid Days, pt one (Byrne), Open the Kingdom (Liquid Days, pt two) (Byrne); Planctus, 1v, pf, 1997; Songs of Milarepa, Bar, chbr orch, 1997; Voices, nar, org, 2 didgeridoo, 2000


  • Orch: Piece for Chbr Orch, 1965; Arioso no.2, str orch, 1967; Music in Similar Motion, chbr orch, 1981 [from works for ens, 1969]; Company, str orch, 1983 [from Str Qt no.2, 1983]; Glass Pieces, 1983 [from ballet Glass Pieces, 1983]; Dance from Akhnaten, 1984 [from op Akhnaten, 1984]; Music from the CIVIL warS (Cologne section), opt. SATB, orch, 1984 [from music theatre piece, 1984]; The Light, tone poem, 1987; Vn Conc., 1987; The Canyon, 1988; Itaipu, 1989; Passages, chbr orch, 1990, collab. Ravi Shankar; Conc. grosso, chbr orch, 1992; Low Symphony, 1992 [based on D. Bowie, B. Eno: Low]; Sym. no.2, 1994; Sym. no.3, 1994; Conc. for Sax Qt and Orch, 1995; Echorus, 2 solo vn, str orch, 1995; Heroes Sym., 1996 [based on Bowie, Eno: Heroes]; Days and Nights in Rocinha, 1997; Conc. Fantasy for 2 Timp and Orch, 2000; Tirol Conc., pf, str, 2000; Conc. for Vc and Orch, 2001
  • Glass Ens: Music in Contary Motion, 1969; Music in Fifths, 1969; Music in Similar Motion, 1969, orchd 1981; Music in Eight Parts, 1969; Music with Changing Parts, 1970; Music in Twelve Parts, 1971–4; Two Pages, pf, ens, 1974 [from kbd work, 1969]; Another Look at Harmony, pts 1 and 2, 1975; The Lost Ones, 1975: see incidental music; Dance no.1, no.3 [from multimedia perf., Dance, 1979]; Glassworks, 1981: Closing, Facades, Floe, Islands, Opening, Rubric; A Descent into the Maelstrom, 1985: see dramatic and multimedia
  • Chbr and solo inst: Str Qt no.1, 1966; One Plus One, amp table-top, 1967; Head On, vn, vc, pf, 1967; Music in the Shape of a Square, 2 fl, 1967; Strung Out, amp vn, 1967; Gradus, s sax, 1968; Another Look at Harmony, pt 3 ‘Cascando’, cl, pf, 1975; Modern Love Waltz, fl, cl, 2 pf, opt. hp, opt. vib, 1977 [arr. of pf work, 1977]; Fourth Series, pt 3, cl, vn, 1979; Str Qt no.2 ‘Company’, 1983; Str Qt no.3 ‘Mishima’, 1985 [from film score, 1984]; Prelude to Endgame, db, 4 timp, 1986; Arabesque in Memoriam, fl, 1988; Str Qt no.4 ‘Buczak’, 1989; Str Qt no.5, 1991; Melodie, sax, 1995
  • Kbd: In Again and Out Again, 2 pf, 1967; How Now, pf/ens, 1968; Music in Fifths, pf, 1969 [version of work for ens, 1969]; Two Pages, 4 elec kbd, 1969, rev. pf, ens, 1974; Fourth Knee Play, pf, 1977 [from op Einstein on the Beach, 1975–6]; Fourth Series, pt 2 (Dance no.2), org, 1978; Fourth Series, pt 4, org, 1979, rev. pf as Mad Rush, 1979, choreog. as dance piece, 1979; Olympian, pf, 1984 [from choral work The Olympian, 1984]; Cadenza: W.A. Mozart: Pf Conc. no.21, k467, 1987; Wichita Vortex Sutra, pf, 1988; Metamorphosis I–IV, pf, 1989; Anima mundi, 1992, pf [from film score Anima Mundi, 1992]; Tesra, pf, 1993; Etudes, pf, 1994; Now, So Long After That Time, pf, 1994

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  1. Etan

    Thanks for sharing Strickland’s article on Philip Glass!

    E – http://blog.ateava.com/

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