Piano Music of Philip Glass
Music by Philip Glass
Aleck Karis, piano


Roméo Records 7204


Wichita Sutra Vortex 7:12
Metamorphosis One 5:54
Metamorphosis Two 7:23
Metamorphosis Three 5:42
Metamorphosis Four 6:57
Metamorphosis Five 5:10
Mad Rush 15:41
Opening (from Glassworks) 5:11
Modern Love Waltz 3:54


The music of Philip Glass is often enjoyed in conjunction with other art forms: theater, film, dance, poetry. His listeners have had many opportunities to experience the interaction of the music with movement, images, or words. Much harder to come by in the case of Glass, however, has been the chance to hear the same piece played by several different performers. Music lovers appreciate the fact that no two musicians hear in the same way, or have the same set of musical priorities. Here then is an intimate foray into the monumental world of Philip Glass, from one outside of his circle.

Wichita Vortex Sutra, from 1988, takes its title from a poem written by Allen Ginsberg in 1966.

Metamorphosis (1988) takes its name from the short story by Franz Kafka. It consists of five movements. The first two and the last use material from Errol Morris’ artful documentary film, The Thin Blue Line, and numbers three and four come from incidental music written for a play based on the Kafka story. Though all five movements develop a small amount of source material through repetition, each has its own unique form.

Number one focuses on the interval of the third and repetition in threes. The introduction consists of four chords followed by the e minor accompaniment figure. The bass line, here and throughout the movement, moves down a major third by step. The inner voice of the accompaniment figure is a series of ascending major thirds. The melody, a plaintive call, is a minor third falling three times from D and once from B flat. This occurs three times, as does the whole piece including introduction. As in Witchita Vortex Sutra, material from the introduction is used in the coda, but this time a metamorphosis has taken place, with the addition of a mysterious fifth chord and two repetitions of the chords rather than one.

Number two is in three parts, with the return of the A section altered only by the deletion of two bars. The haunting melody, reminiscent of Satie, flows smoothly and slowly, but actually breaks down into uneven phrase lengths: 8 bars, repeated, followed by 18 bars, (4+4+4+ a 6 bar extension), repeated. The Rococo-sounding accompaniment now includes minor thirds and fourths. The B section that follows repeats the harmonies, substituting arpeggiated chords for the melody, and expanding the first 8-bar phrase by four bars.

In number three each bar contains two repeated chords in the right hand and three repeated bass notes in the left, along with the broken thirds in the middle. Glass, like Dufay, Brahms, and so many others, makes great use of the rhythmic ambiguity caused by the fact that six notes can be divided into groups of two or three. The piece has five sections that oscillate between D minor and D major.

Number four, in C minor, has syncopated chords in the right hand that create an agitated mood not found in the other movements. The accompaniment figure is once again slightly altered. The bass notes repeat as in number three, though now there are four to a bar; the broken thirds now occasionally change to fourths or fifths. The overall form is ABA with an arpeggiated middle section like number two. Here, however, the phrase lengths are unchanged; instead, there are some new harmonies, especially in the first phrase.

Number five has the same material as number one, but again, some sort of metamorphosis has occurred. The opening four chords are now five, and the coda has disappeared. Or is it the experience of having heard the intervening movements that causes some listeners to perceive this music differently?

Mad Rush (1981) was first written as the organ piece on the occasion of a visit to New York by the Dalai Lama. Later it was used by choreographer Lucinda Childs for a dance of the same name. Unlike Witchita Vortex Sutra, which is entirely in F major, Mad Rush vacillates between F major and A minor in the manner of modal music, where the listener is unsure what the mode actually is until the end. In this case, F is the “dominant” chord, and A minor is the “final”. The entire work can be seen as variations on a chant-like theme which appears as a very slow-moving bass line: F, E (repeated), F,[G,F,] E (repeated twice), G, F (repeated), G, [F, G,] F. Each phrase takes up four bars, with the notes in brackets acting as slow-motion upper neighbor and lower neighbor ornaments. The continuous texture above this bass line consists of broken thirds, in a polyrhythm of two against three, with three against four also present since the triplets are grouped in twos. The B section is a variation on the same bass line with broken chords moving in rapid contrary motion. This music suggests the “mad rush” of the title, bringing to mind the sped-up “out of balance” scenes from the Reggio/Glass film Koyaanisqatsi. It is relentless, with equilibrium disturbed as the usual 3+3 note grouping is occasionally broken by 3+5. In the next section © the texture returns from two to three voices, each of which moves at a different rate. The bass sings its very slow chant, the broken thirds in the middle move at a moderate speed, and the top voice has extremely rapid arpeggiated figures (twice as fast as the top voice of the A section). The work continues with repetitions of the first two sections leading to a serene D section in which a melancholy line floats over the final repetitions of the bass line. The resulting form is thus ABCBABD.

Opening (1982) has a texture very similar to the first part of Mad Rush, though the effect here is quite different, with actual chord progressions, richer harmonies and a steady buildup to a piano subito. The repetition scheme is simpler and phrases are all four bars long.

The final work on this recording is also the most lighthearted. Modern Love Waltz (1977) has the feeling of a fandango, with the Spanish flavor distilled down to that familiar half-step bass harmony. The ostinato bass line here outlines two chords, A7 and Bflat7, with the improvisatory upper voice sounding in turn lilting and halting.

Philip Glass has again and again shown himself to be a master of the manipulation of perception. The same work can evoke deeply personal reactions in different listeners: a sense of alienation, an expression of pure energy, a feeling of panic, a canny portrayal of the banality of modern life, or a melancholy made even more touching by its restraint and control.

— Aleck Karis

At home with both contemporary and classical works, Aleck Karis has recently appeared with New York’s Y Chamber Symphony, St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. He has been featured at leading international festivals including Bath, Geneva, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Miami, New York Philharmonic’s Horizons Festival, Caramoor, and the Warsaw Autumn Festival. He is the pianist with Speculum Musicae, the New York League-ISCM Chamber Players, and SONOR, the contemporary music ensemble of the University of California, San Diego. Awarded a solo recitalists’ fellowship by the NEA, Karis has been honored with two Fromm Foundation grants “in recognition of his commitment to the music of our time.”

Karis has recorded for Nonesuch, New World, Neuma, Centaur, and CRI Records. His solo debut album for Bridge Records of music by Chopin, Carter and Schumann was nominated as “Best Recording of the Year” by OPUS Magazine (1987). Also on Bridge are recordings of piano music by Mozart, Stravinsky, and, most recently, Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano by John Cage (“Critic’s Choice”, Gramophone 1999). He has also recorded solo music by Davidovsky, Cage, Babbitt, Reynolds, Anderson, Krieger, Primosch, Yuasa and Cory. Chamber music recordings include works by Carter, Wolpe, Crumb, Babbitt, Martino, Lieberson, Steiger, and Shifrin.

Artur Balsam and Beveridge Webster were among his major teachers while at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School. He credits William Daghlian as a key mentor and his most important teacher.

Karis is currently a Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego.


Original music composed by Philip Glass. Performed by Aleck Karis, piano.

Producer: William Daghlian. Egineer: Jonathan Schultz. Executive Producer: Ron Mannarino.
Piano: Steinway. Piano technician: Kong Ju Lee. Recorded June 18-19, 1999 at Sommer Center, Concordia College, Bronxville, NY.

Karis photo: Christian Steiner. Painting: Untitled by John A. Hudock (1982). Booklet and inlay, concept and design: Ron Mannarino & Jon Kane.

This recording was made with the assistance of an Academic Senate grant from the University of California, San Diego.

Licensed to Roméo Records by Aleck Karis. © 2000 Roméo Records.



Mad Rush
Metamorphosis I – V
Modern Love Waltz
Wichita Vortex Sutra

Glassworks on Sony Masterworks
Solo Piano on Sony Masterworks

We now know who by Dave Eggers, editor