As one of the leading figures of the 1960s minimalist movement, Philip Glass has worked with the likes of Twyla Tharp, Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen, Paul Simon, and David Bowie. Glass utilises motif, and is interested in the psychoacoustic effects of music.
He was a prodigious student of mathematics and philosophy at the University of Chicago, he then studied composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he worked alongside composer Steve Reich, and later in Aspen with Darius Milhaud. Dissatisfied with serial tradition he left for Europe to further his musical training with Nadia Boulanger. It was here that he discovered the music of composer Ravi Shanker. Philip Glass was profoundly influenced by Indian music and its repetitive structure. After a trip to India, he decided to apply techniques from oriental music to his own work. Upon his return to New York in 1967 he founded the Philip Glass Ensemble (for amplified keyboards, vocals and wind instruments) with whom he created most of his work of “new music” such as Music with Changing Parts (1973), Music in Twelve Parts (1974) and, most notably, Einstein on the Beach with Bob Wilson (1976) an opera which brought Philip Glass real success in America and Europe.
Despite the minimalist nature of his works (he was one of the founders of the minimalist movement, alongside Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young), Philip Glass rejected the term “minimalist”, instead labelling his music as “music with repetitive structures”. His first works, up until 1974, were built out of small musical fragments, woven together to create a logical, slow and gradual evolution, an immersive musical experience without clear points of reference for the listener. His subsequent works represented a shift in focus to more dramatic, orchestral works, such as his Violin Concerto (1987). Glass has composed a wide range of musical repertoire from opera to dance music, he has written chamber music, music for theatre, concertos and film scores (notably Koyaanisqatsi, a radical meeting of image and sound). Philip Glass is, above all, a creator who blurs the boundaries between “learned” music and popular music.
Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Philip Glass
1966 – Discovers the music of Ravi Shankar
1967 – Founds the Philip Glass Ensemble
1976 – Performance of his opera Einstein on the Beach
1993-1996 – Composes a triptych of operas inspired by the work of Jean Cocteau
2002 – The Opéra national du Rhin opens their season with Akhnaten by Philip Glass
2007 – Composes an original film score for Cassandra’s Dream by Woody Allen
Six Key Works by Philip Glass
1967 – 600 lines (first work for the Philip Glass Ensemble)
1976 – Einstein on the Beach
1983 – Koyannisqatsi
1987 – Concerto for Violin
1994 – Belle Et La Bete (written as a new soundtrack for the 1964 Jean Cocteau film)
2009 – String Sextet