Philip Morris Glass (born January 31, 1937) is an American composer, considered one of the most influential music makers of the late 20th century, whose music is also often controversially described as minimal music, along with the work of the other “major minimalists” La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Glass was born on January 31, 1937, in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Benjamin Charles Glass and Ida (née Gouline) Glass. His family were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. His father owned a record store, and consequently Glass’s record collection consisted to a large extent of unsold records, including modern music such as Hindemith, Bartók, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, which he cites as a “big influence” at a very early age. He then studied the flute as a child at the university-preparatory school of the Peabody Institute and entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago at the age of 15, where he studied Mathematics and Philosophy. In Chicago he discovered the serialism of Anton Webern and composed a twelve-tone string trio. In 1954 Glass went to Paris for the first time, encountering the films of Jean Cocteau, which made a lasting impression on him. He visited artists’ studios and saw their work.
Glass then went on to the Juilliard School of Music where the keyboard became his main instrument. His composition teachers included Vincent Persichetti and William Bergsma, while fellow students included Steve Reich and Peter Schickele. 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 at the summer school of the Aspen Music Festival and composed a violin concerto for a fellow student, Dorothy Pixley-Rothschild. After leaving Juilliard in 1962, Glass moved to Pittsburgh and worked as a school-based composer-in-residence in the public school system, composing various choral, chamber and orchestral music. In 1964, Glass received a Fulbright Scholarship and went to Paris, where he studied with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger from autumn of 1964 to summer of 1966. Glass made friends with American artists, actors, and directors, including JoAnne Akalaitis, whom he married in 1965. Glass worked in winter 1965 and spring 1966 as a music director and composer on a film score (Chappaqua, Conrad Rooks, 1966) with Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha. Glass then left Paris for northern India in 1966.
Shortly after arriving in New York City in March 1967, Glass attended a performance of works by Steve Reich (including the ground-breaking minimalist piece Piano Phase), which left a deep impression on him. Between summer of 1967 and the end of 1968, Glass composed nine works, including Strung Out (for amplified solo violin, composed in summer of 1967), Gradus (for solo saxophone, 1968), Music in the Shape of a Square (for two flutes, composed in May 1968, an homage to Erik Satie), How Now (for solo piano, 1968) and 1+1 (for amplified tabletop, November 1968) which were “clearly designed to experiment more fully with his new-found minimalist approach.” The first concert of Glass’s new music was at Jonas Mekas’s Film-Makers Cinemathèque (Anthology Film Archives) in September 1968. With 1+1 and Two Pages (composed in February 1969) Glass turned to a more “rigorous approach” to his “most basic minimalist technique, additive process” pieces which were followed in the same year by Music in Contrary Motion and Music in Fifths (a kind of homage to his composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Eventually Glass’s music grew less austere, becoming more complex and dramatic, with pieces such as Music in Similar Motion (1969), and Music with Changing Parts (1970).
In 1971, Glass formed the Philip Glass Ensemble. Glass’s music for his ensemble culminated in the four-hour-long Music in Twelve Parts (1971–1974), Glass continued his work with a series of instrumental works, called Another Look at Harmony (1975–1977). The first opera of his portrait opera trilogy, Einstein on the Beach, was composed in spring to fall of 1975 in close collaboration with Robert Wilson, and premiered in summer 1976 at the Festival d’Avignon, Einstein on the Beach was followed by further music for projects by the theatre group Mabou Mines such as Dressed like an Egg (1975), and again music for plays and adaptations from prose by Samuel Beckett, such as The Lost Ones (1975), Cascando (1975), Mercier and Camier (1979). Glass also turned to other media; two multi-movement instrumental works for the Philip Glass Ensemble originated as music for film and TV: North Star (1977 score for the documentary North Star: Mark di Suvero by François de Menil and Barbara Rose) and four short cues for Jim Henson’s TV-series for children, Sesame Street, named Geometry of Circles (1979).
Another series, Fourth Series (1977–79), included music for chorus and organ (“Part One”, 1977), organ and piano (“Part Two” and “Part Four”, 1979), and music for a radio adaption of Constance DeJong’s novel Modern Love (“Part Three”, 1978). In Spring 1978, Glass received a commission from the Netherlands Opera (as well as a Rockefeller Foundation grant) which resulted in composing his opera Satyagraha (1978–1979), based on the early life of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, and Martin Luther King Jr. While planning a third part of his “Portrait Trilogy”, Glass turned to smaller music theatre projects such as the non-narrative Madrigal Opera (for six voices and violin and viola, 1980), and The Photographer, a biographic study on the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1982). Glass also continued to write for the orchestra with his most famous film score to date, Koyaanisqatsi (1981–1982). Some pieces which were not used in the film (such as Façades) eventually appeared on the album Glassworks (1982, CBS Records), which brought Glass’s music to a wider public.
The “Portrait Trilogy” was completed with Akhnaten (1982–1983), a vocal and orchestral composition sung in Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, and Ancient Egyptian. Glass again collaborated with Robert Wilson on another opera, the CIVIL warS (1983). Glass also composed a prestigious work for chorus and orchestra for the opening of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, The Olympian: Lighting of the Torch and Closing . In the mid-1980s, Glass produced “works in different media at an extraordinarily rapid pace”. Projects from that period include music for dance such as Dance Pieces (1983), and In the Upper Room (1986); and music for theatre productions Endgame (1984) and Company (1983). Interest in writing for the string quartet and the string orchestra led to a chamber and orchestral film score for Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1984–85). Glass also dedicated himself to vocal works with two sets of songs, Three Songs for chorus (1984, settings of poems by Leonard Cohen, Octavio Paz and Raymond Levesque), and a song cycle initiated by CBS Masterworks Records, Songs from Liquid Days (1985), with texts by songwriters such as David Byrne, Paul Simon, in which the Kronos Quartet is featured (as it is in Mishima) in a prominent role. Glass also continued his series of operas with adaptations from literary texts such as The Juniper Tree (an opera collaboration with composer Robert Moran, 1984), Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1987), and also worked with novelist Doris Lessing on the opera The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1985–86) performed by the Houston Grand Opera and English National Opera in 1988.
Compositions such as Company, Facades and String Quartet No. 3 gave way to a series of works more accessible to ensembles such as the string quartet and symphony orchestra written in a more and more traditional and lyrical style. In these works, Glass often employs old musical forms such as the chaconne and the passacaglia – for instance in Satyagraha. A series of orchestral works that were originally composed for the concert hall commenced with the 3-movement Violin Concerto No. 1 (1987). This turn to orchestral music was continued with a symphonic trilogy of “portraits of nature”, commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra entitled The Light (1987), The Canyon (1988), and Itaipu (1989). While composing for symphonic ensembles, Glass also composed music for piano, with the cycle of five movements titled Metamorphosis (adapted from music for a theatrical adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and for the Errol Morris film The Thin Blue Line, 1988).
Glass also returned to chamber music; he composed two String Quartets (No. 4 and No. 5, for the Kronos Quartet, 1989 and 1991), and chamber works which originated as incidental music for plays, such as Music from “The Screens” (1989/1990). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Glass’s projects also included two highly prestigious opera commissions, based on the life of two explorers, Christopher Columbus (The Voyage (1990), commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang), and Vasco da Gama (White Raven) (1991), a collaboration with Robert Wilson and composed
After these operas, Glass began working on a symphonic cycle, commissioned by the conductor Dennis Russell Davies. Glass responded with two 3-movement symphonies (“Low” , and Symphony No. 2 ). With the Concerto Grosso (1992), Symphony No. 3 (1995), a Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (1995), written for the Rascher Quartet (all commissioned by conductor Dennis Russel Davies), and Echorus (1994/95), a more transparent, refined, and intimate chamber-orchestral style paralleled the excursions of his large-scale symphonic pieces. The third Symphony was closely followed by a fourth, subtitled Heroes (1996), commissioned the American Composers Orchestra.
Another commission by Dennis Russell Davies was a second series for piano, the Etudes for Piano. Some of the pieces also appeared in different versions such as in the theatre music to Robert Wilson’s Persephone (1994, commissioned by the Relache Ensemble) or Echorus (a version of Etude No. 2 for two violins and string orchestra, written for Edna Mitchell and Yehudi Menuhin 1995). Glass’s prolific output in the 1990s continued to include operas with an opera triptych (1991–1996), which the composer described as an “homage” to writer and film director Jean Cocteau, based on his prose and cinematic work: Orphée (1949), La Belle et la Bête (1946), and the novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929, later made into a film by Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville, 1950). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Glass’s lyrical and romantic styles peaked with numerous projects: operas, theatre and film scores (Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, 1997, Godfrey Reggio’s Naqoyqatsi, 2002, and Stephen Daldry’s The Hours, 2002), a series of five concerti, and three symphonies centered on orchestra-singer and orchestra-chorus interplay. Two symphonies, Symphony No. 5 “Choral” (1999) and Symphony No. 7 “Toltec” (2004), and the song cycle Songs of Milarepa (1997) are thematically meditative. The operatic Symphony No. 6 Plutonian Ode (2002) for soprano and orchestra was commissioned by the Brucknerhaus, Linz, and Carnegie Hall in celebration of Glass’s sixty-fifth birthday, and originated as Glass’s collaboration with Allen Ginsberg (poet, piano – Ginsberg, Glass), based on his eponymous poem. Besides writing for the concert hall, Glass continued his ongoing operatic series with adaptions from literary texts: The Marriages of Zones 3, 4 and 5 ( story-libretto by Doris Lessing), In the Penal Colony (2000, after the story by Franz Kafka), and the chamber opera The Sound of a Voice (2003, with David Henry Hwang), which features the Pipa, performed by Wu Man at its premiere. Glass also collaborated again with the co-author of Einstein on the Beach, Robert Wilson, on Monsters of Grace (1998), and created a biographic opera on the life of astronomer Galileo Galilei (2001).
In the early 2000s, Glass started a series of five concerti with the Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2000, premiered by Dennis Russell Davies as conductor and soloist), and the Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra (2000, for the timpanist Jonathan Haas). The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (2001) had its premiere performance in Beijing, featuring cellist Julian Lloyd Webber; it was composed in celebration of his fiftieth birthday. These concertos were followed by the concise and rigorously neo-baroque Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra (2002). Two years later, the concerti series continued with Piano Concerto No. 2: After Lewis and Clark (2004), composed for the pianist Paul Barnes. With the chamber opera The Sound of a Voice, Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 2 might be regarded as bridging his traditional compositions and his more popular excursions to World Music, also found in Orion (also composed in 2004).
Waiting for the Barbarians, an opera from J. M. Coetzee’s novel (with the libretto by Christopher Hampton), had its premiere performance in September 2005. Two months after the premiere of this opera, in November 2005, Glass’s Symphony No. 8, commissioned by the Bruckner Orchester Linz, was premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. The Passion of Ramakrishna (2006), was composed for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, the Pacific Chorale and the conductor Carl St. Clair. A cello suite, composed for the cellist Wendy Sutter, Songs and Poems for Solo Cello (2005–2007), was equally lauded by critics. In 2007, Glass also worked alongside Leonard Cohen on an adaptation of Cohen’s poetry collection Book of Longing. Appomattox, an opera surrounding the events at the end of the American Civil War, was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera and premiered on October 5, 2007.
Apart from this large-scale opera, Glass added a work to his catalogue of theater music in 2007, and continuing—after a gap of twenty years—to write music for the dramatic work of Samuel Beckett. He provided a “hypnotic” original score for a compilation of Beckett’s short plays Act Without Words I, Act Without Words II, Rough for Theatre I and Eh Joe, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis and premiered in December 2007. 2008 to 2010 Glass continued to work on a series of chamber music pieces which started with Songs and Poems: the Four Movements for Two Pianos (2008), a Sonata for Violin and Piano composed in “the Brahms tradition” (2008); a String sextet followed in 2009. Pendulum (2010, a one-movement piece for violin and piano), a second Suite of cello pieces for Wendy Sutter (2011), and Partita for solo violin for violinist Tim Fain (2010). Works for the theater were a score for Euripides’ The Bacchae (2009, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis), and Kepler (2009). In 2009 and 2010, Glass returned to the concerto genre. Violin Concerto No. 2 in four movements was commissioned by violinist Robert McDuffie, and subtitled “The American Four Seasons” (2009). The Double Concerto for Violin and Cello and Orchestra (2010) was composed for soloists Maria Bachmann and Wendy Sutter and also as a ballet score for the Nederlands Dans Theater. Other orchestral projects of 2010 are short orchestral scores for films; to a multimedia presentation based on the novel Icarus at the Edge of Time by theoretical physicist Brian Greene, which premiered on June 6, 2010, and the score for the Brazilian film Nosso Lar (released in Brazil on September 3, 2010). Glass also donated a short work, Brazil, to the video game Chime, which was released on February 3, 2010.
Glass’s recently completed and projected works include Symphony No. 9 (2010–2011), Symphony No. 10 (2012), Cello Concerto No. 2 (2012, based on the film score to Naqoyqatsi), and String Quartet No. 6. The Perfect American was composed in 2011 to a commission from Teatro Real Madrid. His opera The Lost (fr), based on a play by Austrian playwright and novelist Peter Handke, Die Spuren der Verirrten (2007), premiered at the Musiktheater Linz (de) in April 2013, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies and directed by David Pountney. On June 28, 2013, Glass’s piano concerto Two Movements for Four Pianos premiered at the Museum Kunstpalast, performed by Katia and Marielle Labèque, Maki Namekawa and Dennis Russell Davies. Glass published his memoir, Words Without Music, in 2015. Glass has distanced himself from the “minimalist” label, describing himself instead as a composer of “music with repetitive structures.” Though his early mature music shares much with what is normally called “minimalist”, he has since evolved stylistically.[ Currently, he describes himself as a “classicist”, pointing out that he is trained in harmony and counterpoint and studied such composers as Franz Schubert, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with Nadia Boulanger.
My collection includes the following works by Philip Glass:
Akhnaten (1984): Prelude and Dance (Act 2, Scene 3);
Company (for string orchestra, 1983)
Violin Concerto (1987)
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources