Philip Glass Biography Term Paper

Pages: 24 (6217 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music


There also was the curious effect Glass' music had on the listener's sense of time. The constant beat and subtly shirting rhythms over a static harmonic structure tended to hypnotize and make the listener lose track of time. However, Glass' music soon showed signs of becoming decidedly larger (some of it, like Music in Twelve Parts ran for hours), it remained structurally sparse, using few chord changes. Instead of long developmental sections, which had been normal with "serious" music, there were increasingly complex repetitions and overlapping of lines.

Because Glass' music repeated and varied a very small library of basic musical ideas, the term "minimalism" began to be applied to it.

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A number of other composers were experimenting along the same lines, and the new music caught hold, rapidly developing a "cult" following. A movement, more or less, came into being. Suddenly musicians began arguing the merits and demerits of the new music. Along with its abilities to thrill and inspire, this music displayed the ability to annoy, even infuriate. A typical audience reaction to Glass' music during the late 1970s and 1980s included frantic bravos and violent boos, sometimes coming from the same people. Not since the days of the young Stravinsky had, music become visible that so engaged the emotions of the people who heard it. While many were hailing Glass as the man who had revitalized music and made opera a viable art form again, just as many were castigating him for "destroying" music. Like it or not, though, there was something haunting, even mystical-sounding in Glass' complex simplicity, and it began attracting large audiences. One interviewer, impressed with the mystic qualities of Glass' music, asked him about his own religious beliefs. Glass, ever ready with a quip, declined to discuss religion. Why? Pursued the interviewer. "Because my music is so odd already," explained Glass, "I see no reason to make myself sound any odder."

Term Paper on Philip Glass Biography Philip Glass Assignment

The great breakthrough came in Paris with Glass' discovery of Indian music. Forays into Northern Africa and the Himalayas followed, with Glass eagerly soaking up the principals (though hardly ever the actual sounds) of eastern music. The outcome of all this was his returning to New York and renouncing all his former music, then beginning again, virtually from scratch. Thus, the date of his music in this catalogue begins in 1965. (One can find his earlier works in various libraries, but they sound nothing like the Philip Glass the public has come to know.)

It is easy now to lose sight of one of Philip Glass' major accomplishments: the revitalizing of Opera. The half-century between Puccini's Turandot (1926) and Glass'

Einstein on the Beach (1976), were eminent by an increasing complexity in music, to the point where "new" music of any kind became identified in the public's mind with ugliness and mystique.

Occasionally an opera company would produce something new, but it consistently failed to attract a public, and the production of new operas became anathema to opera companies.

Satyagraha (1980) changed all that. As one theater piece after another emerged from Glass' studio, the opera world sat up and took notice. There have been highly unbeaten operas since then, and by composers other than Philip Glass, but without Glass paving the way, it seems unlikely that the others would have been conceived at all, much less produced.


The term minimalism was created by journalists when these composers were labeled with this controversial term. Indeed there are other names in circulation like rhythmic music, acoustical music, meditative music, system and processed music which attempt to pigeonhole this style.

The term minimal can only be applied to the limited initial material and the limited transformational techniques composers employ, and even this is only the case in the earlier works of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The term is most suitable in Glass's Music in Twelve Parts, which lasts longer than four hours, and Terry Riley is well-known for his All- Night-Concerts. The techniques used in Minimalism are unique but repetition has always been used.

Minimalism contains certain techniques which display the unique sound that it has now become and through this minimal music has developed into solely repetition to the non- academic ear omitting what the music is actually all about. Apparently, the strong issue in minimalism is the repetition, but the most important feature is the procedure or procedures used to develop the music.

In order to define minimalism it is essential to understand to basic principles of minimum material combined with maximum repetition. In order to achieve the required effect composers employ such techniques as phasing, mass transposed layering, and mass accenting of isolated tunes. In mass layering, several players play the same motif at different transpositions and then each player would progress. Within this technique, certain players may emphasis a note from the repeating motif which when combined produce a tune, which would otherwise be isolated. An excellent example of this is in Steve Reich's Six Pianos, 1974. Apart from these basic systems, minimalism can also only contain the duplication itself with harmonic progressions.

Philip Glass's particular special interest was in additive progressions, which are based on repetition in which the musical figures are structures according to this method. Without doubt, the 'arpeggio' trademark is so characteristic and is the vehicle of this process. Its origin lies in Indian music, and it can be set in opposition to the Western principle of divisive time division, with longer units being subdivided into smaller units. The Indian musician, on the other hand, works with much larger units that are created by bringing smaller units together which have a structure different from that of larger units they finally form. "These larger units or periods are integrated in a cyclical process. Other cycles with different rhythms are added afterwards like a wheel-work: everything works simultaneously in a continuous transformation" Glass says.

The overlapping and interweaving of rhythmic structures, and the almost total lack of harmonic development, lend the music a slow, curiously hypnotic effect, but can also produce passages of great drama, a factor which Glass has put to use in film soundtrack music. Koyaanisqatsi and Mishima are his best works in that genre.

Whereas the basis of Glass's earlier works was additive structure, an evolution can be seen after 1970, when he leans towards a growing vertical differentiation - the use of harmony as a structural principle. The musical texture has become richer and more differentiated through the growth of Glass's ensemble and the notation of given lines in unison or parallel motion and the introduction of rudimentary counterpoint. The concern with rhythmic structure was no longer leading.

This interest in harmonic differentiation continues through to 1974 with Music in Twelve Parts. In addition to the application to formerly used techniques such as additive process, repetitive construction, continuous quaver movement, pulsation, a stable harmony per part and the introduction of sudden modulations with each transition to a new part, Glass introduces a number of new techniques.

In creating his own style, Glass illuminated still further the relation between simplicity and complexity. His music has been called 'mesmeric', 'uplifting', 'mystic', and full of 'religious serenity'. Traditional composers complain that his music is insultingly simplistic; of course, it is, if the principle is a complexity that only a peer can penetrate. Nevertheless, if the goal is music with structure, integrity, and conceptual fascination that excites and moves an audience, then music that fails to do that has fallen short. Glass's music has complexities its critics rarely consider. Rhythmic units fly by with such speed that it takes a player substantial concentration not to get lost. Lines sometimes overlap in ways that are difficult to perform or perceive.

Glass's comfortable harmonic language does certainly have its roots among the ground springs of musical romanticism; but when it comes to leveling 'harmonic balance' at Wagner, that is no more or less useful than observing 'minimalist' trends in Beethoven (the Pastoral Symphony's first movement development, for example) or Bach (the late canons). Glass's musical exposition is at least as presented 'Organ Works' - based largely on thematic repetition, subtle rhythmic and harmonic variation and fundamental conceptual simplicity. Glass's separate works recognize themselves by with two distinct features; we can categorize works with the current influence at the time of composing with Koyaanisqatsi, The Violin Concerto, and 100 Airplanes on the Roof, Solo Piano, The Photographer and Glass Pieces. Furthermore, it inhabits a world in suspension, where much is made out of very little, "minimalism."

He is often termed a minimalist composer, and while that may have been a fair description at the beginning of his composing career, this description clearly no longer fits.

Despite all this, Glass is not very popular with other contemporary composers or the so-called 'serious' music scene.

The best way to describe his music is that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Philip Glass Biography.  (2002, July 1).  Retrieved September 19, 2020, from

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"Philip Glass Biography."  1 July 2002.  Web.  19 September 2020. <>.

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"Philip Glass Biography."  July 1, 2002.  Accessed September 19, 2020.