Glass, Philip

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Glass, Philip

Philip Glass, 1937–, American composer, b. Baltimore. Considered one of the most innovative of contemporary composers, he was a significant figure in the development of minimalism in music. Glass attended the Univ. of Chicago, the Juilliard School of Music (M.A., 1962) and studied (1964–66) with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. There he also met Indian musicians Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha, whose music was to influence his own compositions strongly. In 1968 he formed the Philip Glass Ensemble, a small group that employs electronically amplified instruments. During the 1970s he became known for music that blended standard notation and tonality with electronics. These lengthy and highly rhythmic compositions employ a number of phrases that are repeated and slowly modified during the music's course. The purest form of this style is represented in the four-hour-long Music in 12 Parts (1971–74).

More traditional harmonies entered his music with the opera Einstein on the Beach (1976), a work written with Robert Wilson that introduced the minimalist style to a mass audience and paved the way for a wider acceptance of contemporary opera. The meditative Einstein is without narrative plot and blends light, image, and sound as well as dance, words, and music into a hypnotic whole. Glass's work since has become more complex and varied. His more than two dozen operas have become his best-known compositions; Satyagraha (1980), Akhnaten (1984), The Fall of the House of Usher (1988), Hydrogen Jukebox (1990, a collaboration with Allen Ginsberg), The Voyage (1992), and La Belle et la Bête (1994, composed for Cocteau's film) followed Einstein. Three more had their American debuts in 2001—The Marriages between Zones 3, 4 and 5 (1997); the epic White Raven (1998), another collaboration with Wilson; and the smaller-scale In the Penal Colony (2001), based on Kafka's short story. Later operas are Galileo Galilei (2002); Waiting for the Barbarians (2005), based on a Coetzee novel; Appomattox (2007, rev. 2015 to reflect contemporary challenges to civil and voter rights); Kepler (2009); and The Perfect American (2013), a surreal portrait of Walt Disney during his final days. Glass's other compositions include symphonies, concertos, string quartets, songs, and film scores, e.g., the harmonically lush music for Koyaanisqatsi (1982), and scores for films by such directors as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Errol Morris. Glass's work has been extremely influential in the development of a new generation of composers.

See his Music by Philip Glass (1987) and his memoir Words without Music (2015); R. Kostelanetz, ed., Writings on Glass (1997); Philip Glass: Looking Glass (documentary, 2005).

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