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Glass Notes Blog – Every Monday Morning. It’s a Promise!

Starting this week, Glass Notes will publish an update every week on Monday mornings.

Last week saw the release of Symphony No.10.  It was chosen as album of the week by Q2, WQXR’s Living Composer branch.  It’s somewhat nice to see debate is alive and well regarding the music of Philip Glass.  Some comments about the symphony were so filled with vitriol that it inspired a second piece on the subject.  To me the most interesting things about Symphony No.10 (the symphony formerly known as Los Paisajes del Rio) is that it’s in fact truly Symphony No.Eight-and-a-half having been composed in 2007, years before Symphony No.9. That fact seems to get lost in the discussion.  Q2’s readers seemed to be offended by the very fact that Glass has composed this many symphonies.  What an affront!

Over the weekend I watched a documentary called “Paths Through the Labyrinth” about the life of Krzysztof Penderecki.  Towards the end of the film Penderecki says that in the coming years he hoped to finish his own symphony cycle. He only wanted to go up to No.9, which meant he had to compose two more.  The “issue” of a Ninth Symphony still lingers over living composers.  My own feeling is that it’s absurd to be so prostrate before tradition and/or superstitious.

Yes, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Bruckner, Dvorak are said to have died at No.9 – but such a perception is largely inaccurate.  Conductors love to refer to Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” as a symphony…It is perhaps his “8.5” symphony.  All arguments this week on “Who Wrote the Best Tenth” include Mahler.  For someone who didn’t make it past No.9, there are over 30 recordings of his “complete” Tenth.  Recently I learned that in much of Europe, Schubert’s Ninth is actually what we think of as his “Unfinished” (the “Great” C-major is known as his No.8).  My argument is that if purists want to discount Mahler’s Tenth then you need to discount Schubert’s Ninth, meaning that Schubert only in fact had eight symphonies and avoided any sort of curse.  By most counts Bruckner composed at least 11 symphonies.  To say he died after No.9 is being a little dramatic.  But we are music lovers and we love to be dramatic.  One can only speculate that Penderecki did not want to go past No.9 out of some sort of respect for history.  Glass did not seem to have those same hangups but it seems history was a big enough presence in his mind that he wanted to be as far away as No.9 as soon as possible.

So for us Glass fans, what’s interesting in all of this is why Philip Glass with his Buddhist, Toltec, Taoist spiritual interests, would so seriously consider the “The Curse of the Ninth” that he would dust off an old piece written before his Ninth, orchestrate it, and call it his Tenth?  There is talk of commissioned for a couple more symphonies in Glass’s life.  We will see if those pieces come to be.  I was present once earlier this year when someone asked the composer how many he would compose.  When someone mentioned the number 15, Glass said, “No. Shostakovich composed Fifteen Symphonies.  I can’t write that many. I have too much respect.”

Comments from Q2’s site on Glass’s Tenth Symphony:

Norman from NY State (probably the same Norman who masquerades as “Boolez” on iTunes reviews and lives in his parent’s basement):

“Music composed under commission by the manufacturer of Excedrin Extra-Strength Headache relief medication.”

Bruce from chicago

Glass should Music a favor and stop composing
Nothing but dull repetitious crap

Carol from Garfield, NJ (more level headed)

So, just because Philip Glass wrote more symphonies than Beethoven or Bruckner, that doesn’t mean he can compare with either of them.

Carol from NYC (I wonder how many followers named Carol Philip Glass has?)

Can’t believe I’m really liking this….keep playing it, mainly movement IV! If you get in the “zone” it’s amazing!

Ellen from West Chester, PA

Have to agree with Alice completely, and love her metaphors. In fairness, I only got through most of the first movement before the persistent percussive beats gave me a headache. To compare this stuff to Beethoven borders on heresy.

1 thought on “Glass Notes Blog – Every Monday Morning. It’s a Promise!”

  1. I’ve really been enjoying the 10th, even more than I did it’s prom performance (where I think the tempo of the Scherzo finale was too rushed), and I particularly like the 3 central movements (they form a kind of internal triptych within the symphony); the first part of which reminds me of a piece called ‘Notes’, (which Glass wrote for a short film several years ago), a section of which was used in the documentary ‘Looking Glass’. Upon first hearing (the aforementioned BBC Proms broadcast) I felt the music was distinctly “nocturnal”, so I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that much of the original musical material was written for a fireworks display!

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