Piano Sonata


Music by Philip Glass

Piano Festival Ruhr, 2019 piano: Maki Namekawa

“The biggest thing with new music is how to realize it. It’s an issue of how to write it down but it’s also about how to actually play it.“ –Philip Glass

In late-June 2019 Glass discussed his Piano Sonata , and his relationship to the piece and to the soloist. Glass’ assertion is that any music which is truly new or original has to confront two big issues: notation and performance practice. The Piano Sonata is a piece “bursting with ideas.” These are ideas which in the first run-throughs of the piece seemed totally unconnected. Emerging through time, both Glass and the first soloist, Maki Namekawa, together began to understand how those ideas are connected. Glass stated, “The piece is too difficult for me to play. I can play some of it, sing some of it. But I didn’t really know what it sounded like until someone like Maki performed it.” The challenge of the piece became about the process for both the composer and the performer to understand it.

This was not just a question of musical analysis but rather a question about how to play new music. The piece was composed and could be played as soon as the music was printed. However, what Glass was addressing was the discovery of “How to get from A to Z. When that happens, that is when the real piece emerges.” During intensive work sessions two weeks before the premiere in 2019 Glass simply asked, “What is a piece that’s never been performed before?”

The Glass Piano Sonata is about 30 minutes long and is cast in three movements. Glass claims that the piece is related to his work of the past two or three years like his Symphony No.12 (2019) or his Percussion Quartet (2018) which were pieces that addressed ways that instruments play material. However, while Glass was working in a new way on these pieces, “…it turns out that writing for piano was the best place to work out these ideas. I began to write in a new way. This Piano Sonata is the most sophisticated form of these ideas. I began to see how the music revealed itself.”

The new ideas in the Piano Sonata are very much about this process. What the composer went through in Barcelona and New York before the premiere was, according to Glass, “absolutely necessary” as part of the creation of the piece. The challenges had very little to do with the notes on paper, but rather with how the piece reveals itself to the creators (composer and performer) and ultimately the audience. Glass ended by saying, “…in discovering what the piece itself is. Musical material is bouncing in between movements and we need to find what needs to happen to put the piece together. What seem like a bunch of funny things at first become parts that pull the piece together. Then finally familiarity breeds understanding.”

Dunvagen Music Publishers

Solo Instrument/Chamber


Piano Sonata Wise Music


Piano Sonata