Philip Glass

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Glass worked in his father’s radio store and discovered music listening to the offbeat Western classical records customers didn’t seem to want. He studied the violin and flute, and obtained early admission to the University of Chicago. After graduating in mathematics and philosophy, he went to New York’s Juilliard school, drove a cab, and studied composition with Darius Milhaud and others.

At 23, he moved to Paris to study under the legendary Nadia Boulanger, who taught almost all of the major Western classical composers of the 20th century. While there, he discovered Indian classical music while transcribing the works of Ravi Shankar into Western musical notation for a French filmmaker. A creative turning point, Glass researched non-Western music in India and parts of Africa, and applied the techniques to his own composition.

Back in the United States, Glass spent the late 1960s and early 1970s driving a taxi cab in New York and creating a major collection of new music. In 1976, his landmark opera “Einstein on the Beach” was staged by Robert Wilson to a baffling variety of reviews. His compositions were so avant-garde that he had to form the Philip Glass Ensemble to give them a venue for performance. Although called a minimalist by the Western classical mainstream, he denies this categorization. His major works include opera, theater pieces, dance, and song.

His work in film, beginning with Koyaanisqatsi (1982), gave filmmakers such as Godfrey Reggio and Errol Morris a new venue of expression through the documentary form. His many recordings have also widened his audience. He was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to compose “The Voyage” for the Columbus quinquacentennial in 1992. In 1996, he composed original music for the Atlanta Olympic Games, which, perhaps, made Glass almost mainstream. Glass remains one of the most important American composers. His music is distinctive, haunting, and evocative. Either performed by itself or in collaboration with other media, his compositions move the listener to unexplored places. More recently, a major reexamination of Glass’s oeuvre has led him to be labeled the Last Romantic by the musical press.

Related Posts