glass notes
Pick of the Week: “I’m Going to Make a Cake” from The Hours

Does anyone recall how awesome the score to The Hours is?  First of all, I can't believe that The Hours was 8 years ago.  To most great accomplishments there's usually a good amount of back-story.  The fact the Glass was the third composer on that film is often forgotten.  Glass' score replaced efforts by Stephen Warbeck, then Michael Nyman.   Considering the pressure on finding the right music, the fact that the music gestation and production takes time, and that they had already gone through two composers, pressure was high and time was short when Glass got the call.

A little known fact is that the film, like many others, was "temp-tracked" with a mock-up of pre-existing Philip Glass music put together by Don Christensen (who went uncredited but really acted as music editor in this sense.)  Ultimately, this is the reason, I believe, why these Glass pieces were re-recorded and incorporated into the final score including the music from Metamorphosis which became "Escape!" (which was of course originally from the Thin Blue Line) and the music from the end of Act II from Satyagraha which became the first half of the cue "I'm Going to Make a Cake."

I don't think any of this history takes away from Glass accomplishment with the new music he wrote. The score as a whole in many ways is his most inspired effort for main stream film. Glass claims that he chose the piano to link the three ostensibly disparate story lines.  The composer is one of the best at supplying moods, and from the opening six notes of The Hours we are drawn directly into Cunningham's theme and variations on Wolfe's Mrs. Dalloway story.  The three-movement concert suite, a de facto piano concerto, which Michael Riesman put together from Glass' new score, shows the strength of that original Hours material and also captures the emotional arc of the film.

What I think of when I think of Glass' score to The Hours are the glorious 'themes' which lie in the lower registers.  The opening music has strings playing an ostinato in a fairly low register. Then we get the stately opening theme in the lowest registers, baaam, bam, bam, bam, baaam. Then modulating up, etc. Most of Glass' "themes" are these harmonic progressions.  They find their higher register showcase in the ending piece to the score, "The Hours."

In this piece which I've chosen, "I'm Going to Make a Cake," the first couple minutes are verbatim excerpts taken from Act II, Scene 3 of Glass' 1979 opera about Gandhi, Satyagraha.  This music, dark and brooding gives way to an optimistic key change from (I'm guessing here because I don't have a score, A minor, to F).  The broken chords change from front heavy to back heavy giving the effect driving forward. This is a beautiful transition and  makes me feel, at that point in the story, that we're excited about driving toward the unknown. This is Julianne Moore's character, the mother of Richard, who really is heading to something which she can't imagine even though she thinks it's toward her own death.  Glass' music tells us it's not going to be that A minor fate of death, but rather the music in F, the key of sweet sadness (like Mad Rush) which is a fate not of death by suicide, but the happier fate of abandoning her husband and child and running off to live in Canada.  (No one said this was a happy story!).  So we have this driving music of arpeggios played by the higher strings and piano, and the lowest strings do this sort of perpetuo mobile, liltingly sorrowful theme.  Just wonderful. I love it.  These themes perfectly capture the mood of each character in telling the story of The Hours.

I'm Going To Make a Cake – The Hours

As an addendum: It's also nice to hear the Satyagraha music not because of some intellectual liaison, but rather because the only existing recording of the opera is so heavily synthesized that we get to hear what a bit of the music sounds like when played by a top rate orchestra in a studio.  

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