glass notes
A Premiere and an Homage

Persephone, a.k.a. TSE, "premiered" in Philadelphia over the weekend.  The incidental music/sound installation for Robert Wilson's theater-piece finally received its concert premiere by the Relache ensemble, the group who made the recording for the sound-installation. I say "premiere" because I'm not sure the piece was ever intended to be played in concert…but hey, I hope people liked it.

On Saturday night I went to see Alice and Wonderland with a fun score by Tim Burton's regular collaborator Danny Elfman.  Proman pointed out an Elfman interview where he says Alice's theme is a PG homage.  Interesting. I'm happy he's giving credit but I don't really hear the connection this time around (maybe someone out there does?).  It's not as obvious as the Elfman score to Errol Morris' last film Standard Operating Procedure for which no one went on record as saying Glass had anything to do with influencing the sound of the film's score. Curious.

This Elfman interview also makes me feel sad.  For years I have defended film music.  It's discouraging to hear a prominent composer say that he's "doing" Philip Glass' style music.  I think this sort of exchange of ideas and styles is much more common in popular music and Hollywood (as it used to be 100 plus years ago in classical), but I also wonder where the compositional conviction is? as in, "I write my music." 

I'm not saying that anyone lives in a vacuum of artistic purity, but I can't recall Glass ever saying "I'm doing Wagner here."  Actually my biggest beef is with composers who don't do what Elfman is doing…For example, James Horner's score for Avatar is  built around a main theme for the blue people which has already been heard in "his" score for Glory which in fact finds itself originally in Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible. Or for that matter in Adams' autobiography he pays minimal lip-service to how Nixon in China owes "a little" to Satyagraha.  Yeah, I agree, as in everything.  So I guess what I'm saying is that outright plagiarism is worse, but credited-heavily influence isn't all that much better.

I dunno.

6 thoughts on “A Premiere and an Homage”

  1. I can definitely hear the PG influence on Elfman’s Alice Theme. Seemed rather obvious to me in fact, once I started listening. I mean, it doesn’t sound EXACTLY like Glass, but parts of it are definitely redolent of Koyaanisqatsi.

  2. Thanks for posting the article. I have to disagree. As Picasso said “Bad artists copy, and great artists steal”. I take Elfman’s homage to Glass as an acknowledgment that Glass has created his own genre of music. After listening to Alice’s Theme, I hear the Glass, but not like he’s ripping him off. On a separate, but similar subject, I’d like to play devil’s advocate: I have noticed that Glass is guilty of borrowing from his own past works and putting them in his movie soundtracks. The Hours, Fog of War, Animals In Love, The Thin Blue Line all have pieces that are not original to those movies scores. Technically he should not have been nominated for an academy award for The Hours. As much as I love Glass’ music, it does bother me that he does this. He’s recycled “Metamorphosis Two” for at least two soundtracks (The Hours and Thin Blue Line). Curious to hear the opinions on this from other Glass fans.

  3. well you are right and you are wrong. Glass does self-plagiarize. The important word there being self. Its all his music. And the recycling of Metamorphosis Two is in fact explainable. He wrote the Thin Blue Line first…then was commissioned to write some piano pieces for dance and used that music (rather than relegate it to one time use in film – as you know most film music is quickly forgotten). His use of it 14 years later on one track of the Hours is explained again by Hollywood temp-tracking. Glass was the third composer on the Hours as the other two got thrown out. Actually, I think if there hadnt been such pressure to finally get music that worked they probably wouldnt have kept the Glass score which was a little outside the Hollywood comfort zone at the time. In any case, they had temporarily put Metamorphosis No.2 on the film…thats what they wanted, and thats what he let them use. Youll notice in the concert suite from the Hours, its only original music which was written for the film which is in the suite.
    The film was clearly temp-tracked with other Glass music, and they simply asked him to compose something like it. Since he is not only the composer but the publisher, he said you can simply license it from me. The same thing with the Satyagraha track on the Hours.
    The point is that Glass has always wanted to bring the widest possible exposure to his music. In the case of the Hours, millions of people heard it…probably more that all of his piano concerts,Thin Blue Line screenings and Satyagraha performances put together. And to my original point, its his music…if hes asked to or forced to copy a piece for a film, its usually his!
    In fact, it goes the other way too…I remember an interview where he said he had a frightening scene in Appomattox, and he took a piece of music he had written for one of his soundtracks, I think it was maybe the rejected score to the Reaping, and put it in the opera. He said it worked great!
    In any and all of these cases, he is still writing his own music and not copying someone elses. The important part is his aural identity which is unmistakable….and no matter what the other composers say, they all which they had such a distinct personality.

  4. Thanks for the shoutout, Richard :)!
    In regards to Elfman, I wouldn’t take him 100% literally “as in he’s actually doing someone elses music now”. He was asked about the influences after all – and good on him for mentioning them! Rota, Herrmann, Glass, etc you can actually hear them (though I’m with you on The Alice theme – it’s not THAT Glassy to me either).
    And it’s not new – Williams was influenced by Herrmann too. He’s been talking about it for ages. Just as others have. And as much as I agree with you in principle – complete purity just doesn’t exist and not just in Film. Film music deserves to be defended – it the best mainstream outlet of quality music we have and at the end of the day, I’d rather have Elfman doing someone else and still sounding like Elfman, than, I kid you not, Hans Zimmer doing Elfman and sounding like who knows what (Heard that track from Sherlock Holmes? Exactly).
    And didn’t Glass also have something like 3 or 4 weeks to finish the score for the Hours?
    More importantly, the fact that these tracks were used is mentioned right there on the recordings. Nobody is trying to fool anyone here and I for one feel that all the other music alone was Oscar worthy by itself.
    That said, that third movement of Symphony #7 did raise a couple of eyebrows though I cannot claim I figured out what happened on my own. Still, it works. I’m glad that track is fully orchestrated and is part of the Symphony.
    “I can’t recall Glass ever saying “I’m doing Wagner here.”
    Never. Please. The Horror.

  5. I’m now reading the liner notes to Solo Piano and feeling a little silly. For some reason I thought that album came out before Thin Blue Line. I was not aware of the history behind The Hours either. Your explanations make sense. It’s nice to have this resource to further my Glasseducation.

  6. There is a “composer” who primarily scores PBS documentaries who fits quite nicely into your description of bad behavior, to a far more severe extent than the Elfman example. A while ago, I tried to call him on it via email, but of course he never replied.
    This is the point so well illustrated by your blog entry: admitting to appropriation is the lesser of the two evils.
    You can hear what I’m writing about by poking around at
    The example that I find especially egregious is his score to “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” which sounds quite a bit more obviously stolen when you hear the full score (beyond the posted tracks which anyway drop the hint).

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