Since their publication in December 2014, Philip Glass’ piano études have been enthusiastically embraced by pianists around the world. At the outset of Glass’ career as a composer part of his professional strategy was holding back scores from publication. The idea had two motivations behind it: independence and pecuniary. Regarding independence, it wasn’t at all attractive to Glass to spend his time soliciting performances from orchestras and ensembles. Thus the Philip Glass Ensemble was born and for decades it was the main vehicle for his music. If you wanted to hear Glass’ music performed live, you needed to hire the Philip Glass Ensemble.
In those early days, on the monetary front, these performances were the backbone of Glass’ viability as a professional composer. Inasmuch, the performances needed to be protected. This protection took the form of specifically not releasing certain music to the performing public. Such an idea might appear somewhat strange today (actively telling groups that that they cannot perform your music), but the practice was a fundamental in Philip Glass’ artistic path at that time.
While even today the Philip Glass Ensemble continues to tour, over the years certain pieces started to be released from exclusivity. This past year there was a production of “Einstein on the Beach” in Germany (only the second production ever not to include the Philip Glass Ensemble) as well as the first ever performance of “Music in 12 Parts” at the Barbican in London. And much of the classic PGE repertoire including pieces like “Music with Changing Parts” has been recorded many times over and are now frequently performed by new music ensembles. So what was the last holdout of this arcane and cruel practice? The piano études.
Most of the Etudes were composed in 1994 largely in response to Glass’ need for repertoire for his solo piano concerts (though there were other motivations at play as well). For literally almost two decades Glass was the only person who performed this music. While a few pianists including Dennis Russell Davies for whom the first handful of Etudes were written, Bruce Brubaker and a few others got their hands on the music and were given permission to perform and record the work, it really wasn’t until Glass set about completing, editing, and overseeing the first complete recording around 2012-14 that the composer finally had to come to terms with this idea that this body of work which began as pieces written for himself (Book 1), had now grown into something more. And it was time to deal with the pent up demand for new piano music from Glass.
In November 2014 Orange Mountain Music released the first recording of The Complete Piano Etudes with pianist Maki Namekawa coinciding with the physical publication of the scores just about two weeks before the New York premiere of the Etudes took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Immediately pianists everywhere started performing and recording the works. Now three years later, we count no less than 15 or so recordings of the Etudes with certainly many more to come. This fall alone sees complete recordings by Anton Batagov (Nov.10 on OMM), Jeroen van Veen (Oct 27 on Brilliant Classics) and Jenny Lin (Nov.17 on Steinway & Sons). Here is the latest list of interpretations of the Glass piano etudes, all coming out over the last 36 months.
Recordings: Maki Namekawa 1-20 (2014 OMM); Anton Batagov 1-20 (2017 OMM); Jenny Lin 1-20 (2017 Steinway & Sons); Nicholas Horvath 1-20 (2015 Grand Piano); Bojan Gorisek 1-20 (2015 (Book 1),(Complete) 2017 Sound Factory); Philip Glass 1-10 (2004 OMM); Andrew Chubb 1-10 (2015); Bruce Levingston (1,2,5,6,9,10,11,12,,16,17 Sonos Luminus); Vikingur Olafsson (2,3, 5,6,9,13,14,15,18,20) 2017 Deutsche Grammophon); Bruce Brubaker (1-6 (2009 Arabesque)); Dennis Russell Davies ((1-6) 2009 OMM); Luke Woodapple (1-5 2016 Reemeeze Prod.); Paul Barnes ((5,6,8,11,16,18,20) 2015 OMM)
Transcriptions: Lavinia Meijer (1,2,5,8,9,12,16,17,18,20); NYU Steel Drums (1-10 OMM) Remixes: Androoval: Etude No.1; Luciano Superveille: Etude No.2; Taylor Dupree: Etude No.5; Kummerspeck: Etude No.9