glass notes
Pick of the Week – The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
, a.k.a. sleepwalking, a.k.a Act I, Scene 6 from Glass' les Enfants TerriblesEnfants was the last of the three operas that Glass wrote from original sources by Cocteau. The first was the film Orphée (1993), then came La Belle et La Bete (1994), then les Enfants Terribles (1996). 

For those of you who listened to the old SF Exploratorium which was recently posted, Glass spoke a bit about works which he felt were very important because they came during a compositional period where certain musical ideas were new and fresh even if their presentation wasn't the most refined.  If one pays close attention to Glass career, one can see the beginning and ends of certain periods where older musical ideas are put in fantastic light by experience, orchestration, etc.  However, to the composer, it's these other pieces which might be his best or most interesting works because they are chock-full of musical innovation.

I spoke with Glass about this last month and I mentioned that 2005 was the end of such a period, culminating with two pieces which I felt were "end-of-period" pieces, Symphony No.8 and Waiting for the Barbarians. Glass agreed and said his new period began in 2008 with Four Movements for Two Pianos and the Violin Sonata.

Personally, I have always thought the period from Satyagraha (1979) through the Violin Concerto(1987) the composer's most incredible period…musical possibilities were everywhere and he was clicking on all artistic cylinders, as it were.  However, toward the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s we see pieces which are infused with incredible innovation as the composer was entering a new more outwardly expressive period.  Among the pieces which come to mind are the fifth movement of the fifth string quartet (1991)(alas, it's been almost 20 years since Glass has written a string quartet) and The Screens (1990).

Often these more innovative pieces are created contemporaneously with pieces which are born more confident of their ability to please an audience (in this case that means a more conservative musical language. ) I recall an Opera News interview with Glass as he was finishing composing The Voyage (1992), his commission from the Met Opera, and he looked forward to doing "things that he always wanting to do" including a series of operas based on Cocteau whom he always admired since his firs trip to Paris in the early 1950s. 

This is all to say that those three operas represented huge artistic and adventurous leaps for Philip Glass.Cocteau inspired fantastic music from Glass, leading him into unknown musical territory. Time-wise, we're only about 13 or 14 years from A Madrigal Opera and other process pieces. So, it's with that that I present a sampling of his Cocteau music with this scene from the first Act of les Enfants Terribles. Here Paul goes sleepwalking seeking Dargelos.

The Somnambulist

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