glass notes
Words Without Music – March/April 2015

“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I’m certainly not the dumbest. I mean, I’ve read books like "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "Love in the Time of Cholera", and I think I’ve understood them. They’re about girls, right? Just kidding. But I have to say my all-time favorite book is Johnny Cash’s autobiography "Cash" by Johnny Cash.”

– Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity

On either March 31 or April 6, 2015, W.W. Norton will Release Philip Glass's "Words Without Music"

I quote this often but I replace "Cash by Johnny Cash" with my favorite book, the 1987 "Music by Philip Glass by Philip Glass."  I recall discovering, as a new Philip Glass fan in the late 1990s, that the composer had written a book. I was working for a house-builder driving a junky pickup hauling trash away from building sites to the dump.  I would linger around the corner from job sites, sitting in an old blue Ford F-150, and I would devour a few precious pages at a time from this one and only book by my favorite composer. 

It's been 28 years since Glass has written a book.  "Music by Philip Glass" basically only covers a sort of cursory glance at his ascendence as a composer.  At that point in history, it represented the story of a composer trying his hand at operas and theater pieces after an initial period of ensemble pieces dealing with the development of his own musical language.  This was the period up through and including the original portrait trilogy and a few other pieces. 

I love the book. It was written by an artist in the midst of a very interesting part of his career; it was the first wave of success and wider recognition for Glass's work.    We need only look back to the recent DVD of the Michael Blackwood film "A Composer's Notes" to see Glass at that time. I still find it shocking to see footage from the premiere of Akhnaten in Stuttgart with the composer getting thoroughly booed.  By the end of the film Glass had recently stopped his famous string of day jobs and seemed energized at the idea that he would be able start to be able to write the pieces he had been thinking about for a long time.  Inasmuch, "Music by Philip Glass" and "A Composer's Notes" only glimpses the beginning of Glass as a fully functioning major artist.

At the concerts in recent memory the boos are rare occurences.  It's easy to see Glass only through the prism of his latter day acceptance, his influence on others, and commercial success including major Hollywood film scores.  No one…no one in 1987 would have believed such a thing would have been possible.

The second wave of Glass's career from the late 1990s to today has been a totally different kind of success and popular success for a classical composer.  Glass stated recently that he always aimed to be a populist.  Until the mid-1990s, Glass's music was widely viewed a artsy and bizarre.  For him to become a "populist" would have been laughable to most people in the  1970s and '80s.  A memoir at this point, that covers the body of work from the beginning (including his first composition, a string trio in Chicago in the early 1950s) to the recent past is overdue.  Can't wait to read it.



3 thoughts on “Words Without Music – March/April 2015”

  1. Only 288 pages to cover the body of work from the beginning in the 1950’s to the recent past? That’s Minimalism! (I apologize for using the M*** word). Anyway, this would be one of the rare cases in which I’ll buy the hard cover edition instead of the e-book.

  2. According to Amazon, the hardcove edition amounts to 288 pages, but I believe that you’re more reliable. It’s a pity that the 2000’s aren’t covered in this book, but still – it will be an interesting read.

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