Philip Glass

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Philip Glass, December 2007

Philip Glass (born January 31, 1937 in Baltimore , Maryland ) is an American musician and composer . Together with Steve Reich , Terry Riley and La Monte Young he is considered one of the most important representatives of minimal music .

Glass' works include numerous operas and musical theater works, twelve symphonies , eleven concerts, eight string quartets and various other chamber music and film music compositions. Three of his film compositions have been nominated for the Academy Awards .


Philip Glass grew up listening to music in a Jewish family: his father was a record dealer in Baltimore . The boy's first own instrument was the violin , which he learned at the age of six, followed by the flute. At the age of eight he became a student at the Peabody Conservatory, and by the age of ten he was already playing in local orchestras . From 1952 to 1956 he studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Chicago and made a Bachelor of Arts . During this time he worked intensively with the twelve-tone technique .

From 1959 to 1962 he mainly studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music in New York , where he did his Master of Science (fellow classmate was Steve Reich , who studied composition there), and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud . In the meantime he had turned away from the music of the Schoenberg successor and opened up to the moderate American modernity , as embodied by Aaron Copland . Subsequently, further works were created in Pittsburgh (they were later declared insignificant by Glass). In 1964 he went to Europe, where, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship , he was able to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris for two years , an encounter that had a decisive influence on him as a composer.

In Florence, 1993

In Paris in 1965 Glass met the Indian composer and sitar player Ravi Shankar . Shankar recorded music for the film Chappaqua there and wanted his works to be playable for musicians of western tradition and schooling. Glass was chosen for the necessary transcriptions . This is how he came into contact with Indian music and the tradition of thought for the first time , especially with the Asian rhythm - and understanding of time. The deeply impressed Glass took tabla lessons from Alla Rakha through Shankar in 1967 and toured India and other Asian countries , as well as the Middle East and Africa . He became a Buddhist . In 1972 he met Tendzin Gyatsho , the fourteenth Dalai Lama ; Since that meeting, Glass has been an important supporter of the Tibetan strive for freedom.

In 1965 Glass began composing for his first wife, JoAnne Akalaitis' drama company. His first work was a composition for two saxophones for Samuel Beckett's play Play . Over the next ten years, Glass wrote such theater music over and over again, then his own stage works. Glass himself describes himself primarily as a "theater composer". In 1970 Glass set the artistic film work "Izy Boukir" by Nancy Graves to music, using primarily nature and animal sounds. On his return to the USA, Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1970 so that his compositions could be played since no orchestra asked him. He became his own organizer, booking concert halls and occasionally places where no other contemporary music was performed. His music from this time was played on traditional instruments, but often electronically amplified and alienated. The most important work of these years is the four hour long composition Music in Twelve Parts , which Glass began in 1971 and changed again and again until 1974. This work began as a single work in instrumentations for twelve instruments, but then developed into a cycle that summarized Glass' musical development since 1967.

To make a living, Philip Glass and colleague Steve Reich founded the New York moving company Chelsea Light Moving. He helped himself with the moves.

In 1976 Glass' most successful opera Einstein on the Beach , the result of his first collaboration with Robert Wilson , premiered in Avignon . The triumphant premiere made the composer known worldwide. After this opera composed Glass, a next work for the stage, the dance, film and music unifying Dance - further cooperation with the American choreographer Lucinda Childs , previously also Einstein on the Beach had worked as a choreographer and dance soloist with him.

During this time the composer was not yet financially secure due to his only beginning success and also worked as a taxi driver, plumber, movers and waiter. The reason was also: Glass rented the Metropolitan Opera for the two New York productions of Einstein on the Beach . Although the performances sold out, they still owed Glass around $ 90,000.

Another success followed in 1980: the Mahatma Gandhi opera Satyagraha , premiered by De Nederlandse Opera in Rotterdam under the direction of his compatriot and fellow student from the Juilliard School, Bruce Ferden . Another opera followed in 1983, Akhnaten about Pharaoh Akhnaton , which had its world premiere at the State Theater in Stuttgart . These three operas form a trilogy about men who changed the world non-violently.

In Florence, 1993

Mainly through his music for the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Glass' popularity outside the classical music community increased, he was now considered a composer of the New Age movement. The composer's other film music successes included a new score for the horror film classic Dracula , the music for the Martin Scorsese film Kundun (first Oscar nomination), the media satire Die Truman Show ( The Truman Show , winner of the Golden Globe ) and for The Hours (second Oscar nomination). Glass is considered one of the most productive composers of our time: in the last 25 years he has composed more than twenty operas, ten symphonies, two piano concertos and concerts for violin and saxophone quartet. There is also film music, string quartets and music for solo piano. In 2007 he released the double album Book of Longing - A Song Cycle based on the Poetry and Images of Leonard Cohen .


“Taboos - things that should actually be forbidden - are often the most interesting. In my case, the musical materials that can be found in everyday life are. "This approach was new at the beginning of Glass' career since then in the field of new music remains largely the serial prevailed of composing. It was above all the encounter with Ravi Shankar and Indian music that led Glass to a hypnotic-repetitive style that critics assigned to minimal music , a music that is mostly based on simple chords and arpeggios that are sometimes used by solo instruments, but can also be played by large orchestras in circling patterns. Glass mostly avoids atonality . Peter Sellars described the effect of this music as follows: “With Phil it's a bit like taking a train ride across America: If you look out the window, nothing seems to change for hours, but if you look closely you notice that it is the landscape has changed - slowly, almost imperceptibly. "

Glass' music has deeply permeated the everyday world. Countless music for TV series, commercials, and commercial jingles mimick his style. He himself has been open to popular media throughout his career. His collaboration with Robert Wilson , who is a pioneer of multimedia staging of musical works, proves this, as does his frequent activity as a film composer for mainstream films such as Candyman's Fluch and The Truman Show . Literature, history and politics provide Glass with numerous suggestions for compositions: operas deal with historical personalities such as Albert Einstein , Mahatma Gandhi , Akhenaten , Christopher Columbus and deal with the political situation in Tibet ; literary works by Edgar Allan Poe , Franz Kafka and JM Coetzee provide templates for compositions; Pieces of music are composed for prestigious public events such as the opening of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles ; the music of David Bowie and Brian Eno is processed into two symphonies.


Glass was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994, the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2003, and the American Philosophical Society in 2009. On December 2, 2009, an asteroid was named after him: (100417) Philipglass . In 2012, Glass received the Praemium Imperiale, known as the “Nobel Prize for the Arts”, from the Japanese imperial family . In 2015 he was awarded the Glenn Gould Prize . “The reason given was his extensive influence in various areas of artistic and intellectual life. In addition to operas, symphonies, ensemble works and film music, he also developed a large number of cross-genre art projects. ” Glass received the Chicago Tribune Literary Award in 2016 for his autobiography Words Without Music, which was published in 2015 . In 2018, Glass was honored with a Kennedy Prize .

Works (selection)


  • 1966: String Quartet No. 2
  • 1967: Strung Out for violin solo
  • 1969: Music in Similar Motion
  • 1970: Music with Changing Parts
  • 1974: Music in 12 parts for 9 instrumentalists
  • 1981: Glassworks
  • 1982: Façades for two saxophones and string orchestra
  • 1983: Company for string quartet or string orchestra
  • 1985: String Quartet No. 3 "Mishima"
  • 1987: The Light for orchestra
  • 1987: 1st concert for violin and orchestra
  • 1988: The Canyon for orchestra
  • 1989: String Quartet No. 4 "(in remembrance of the artist Brian) Buczak"
  • 1989: Itaipu for choir and orchestra
  • 1989: Music from The Screens
  • 1989: Solo piano ("Metamorphosis 1–5")
  • 1991: String Quartet No. 5
  • 1992: Symphony No. 1 for orchestra, " Low Symphony"
  • 1994: Symphony No. 2 for orchestra
  • 1994: Etudes for piano (No. 1–10)
  • 1995: Concert for saxophone quartet and orchestra
  • 1995: Symphony No. 3 for string orchestra
  • 1996: Symphony No. 4 " Heroes Symphony"
  • 1999: Symphony No. 5 "Choral" / "Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya"
  • 2000: Tirol Concerto , 1st concert for piano and orchestra
  • 2000: Concert fantasy for two timpani and orchestra
  • 2001: Concerto for violoncello and orchestra
  • 2001: Symphony No. 6 Plutonian Ode for soprano and orchestra
  • 2002: Concerto for harpsichord and orchestra
  • 2004: After Lewis and Clark , 2nd concerto for piano and orchestra
  • 2004: Symphony No. 7 for orchestra, "Toltec"
  • 2005: Symphony No. 8 for orchestra
  • 2006: Choral work Passion of Ramakrishna , WP: September 16, 2006 with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa , California ; Conductor: Carl St. Clair
  • 2006: Songs and Poems for solo cello
  • 2007: Book of Longing , song cycle with texts and pictures by Leonard Cohen
  • 2008: Four movements for two pianos
  • 2008: Violin Sonata for violin and piano
  • 2009: The American Four Seasons , 2nd Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
  • 2012: Symphony No. 9 for orchestra
  • 2011: Symphony No. 10 for orchestra
  • 2013: Two Movements for Four Pianos for four pianos
  • 2014: Etudes for piano (No. 11–20)
  • 2017: Symphony No. 11 for orchestra
  • 2019: Symphony No. 12 for orchestra


Satyagraha with Stefan Cifolelli as Gandhi at the Komische Oper Berlin , October 2017

Portrait Trilogy

More operas

  • 1980: A Madrigal Opera
  • 1983: The CIVIL warS
  • 1984: The Juniper Tree
  • 1987: The Fall of the House of Usher
  • 1988: The Making of the Representative of Planet 8
  • 1990: Hydrogen Jukebox
  • 1991: White Raven
  • 1992: The Voyage
  • 1993: Orphée ( Jean Cocteau )
  • 1994: La Belle et la Bête ( Jean Cocteau )
  • 1996: Les Enfants terribles ( Jean Cocteau )
  • 1997: The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five
  • 1998: Monsters of Grace See also: Where Everything Is Music
  • 2000: In the Penal Colony
  • 2001: Galileo Galilei
  • 2003: The Sound of a Voice
  • 2005: Waiting for the Barbarians
  • 2007: Appomattox
  • 2009: Kepler
  • 2012: The Perfect American
  • 2013: Traces of the lost
  • 2014: the trial

Music for dance ensembles

  • 1979: Dance for Lucinda Childs
  • 1983: Glass Pieces for Jerome Robbins
  • 1986: In the Upper Room , also: Dancer's Notebook # 1-9 for Twyla Tharp ; Audio CD 2009, 45 min. Conductor: Michael Riesmann, Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation, Orange Mountain Music
  • 1986: A Descent into the Maelström for Molissa Fenley
  • 1993: 12 Pieces for Ballet for Uakti
  • 1995: Witches of Venice
  • 1996: Les Enfants terribles ( Jean Cocteau )
  • 2003: Taoist Sacred Dance for Sat Chuen Hon



  • 1983: Paul Simon - Hearts & Bones
  • 1986: Songs from Liquid Days


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Dorling Kindersley Verlag: Compact & Visuell Classical Music . Munich, ISBN 978-3-8310-3136-8 , pp. 440 .
  2. ^ Keith Potter, Four Musical Minimalists , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000, p. 253
  3. a b The German-language Philip Glass site
  4. ^ Peter Lavezzolli The Dawn of Indian Music in the West 2006, p. 127f.
  5. Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise . Munich 2013, p. 555 ff .
  6. ^ Markus Vanhoefer: Phil Glass. Einstein on the Beach. Bayern 2 , April 7, 2015, accessed July 8, 2015 .
  7. Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise . Munich 2013, p. 555 ff .
  8. John Burrows (Ed.): Classical Music . Dorling Kindersley , Starnberg 2006, ISBN 978-3-8310-0870-4 , p. 440.
  9. Claus Stübler, Christine Wolf: Harenberg Composers Lexicon . Bibliographisches Institut , Mannheim 2004, ISBN 978-3-411-76117-3 , p. 341.
  10. For example, in the series The Simpsons, references to Glass are occasionally made. For example, in episode 14 of season 16 (Homer the Rat), an “atonal medley ” is announced by him - whereupon the concertgoers flee. Furthermore, in episodes 15 (Season 21, The Stolen Kiss) and 19 (Season 22, The Mafiosi Bride), reference is made to the film Koyaanisqatsi .
  11. ^ Member History: Philip Glass. American Philosophical Society, accessed August 22, 2018 (with a short biography).
  12. (100417) Philipglass in the Small-Body Database of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (English).Template: JPL Small-Body Database Browser / Maintenance / Alt
  13. Praemium Imperiale: Philip Glass among the awardees. Der Standard , September 12, 2012, accessed July 11, 2015 .
  14. Composer Philip Glass awarded the Glenn Gould Prize. , accessed July 9, 2015 .
  15. Kevin Nance: Philip Glass wins 2016 Literary Award; Heartland Prizes go to Smiley, Jefferson. Chicago Tribune , August 10, 2016, accessed November 3, 2016 .
  16. ^ Martin Dahms: Opera premiere. Walt Disney, the Myth, the God. Die Zeit , January 23, 2013, accessed on July 11, 2015 .
  17. ^ Marieluise Jeitschko: music theater criticism . Against the downfall of the theater with a cheering choir. The German Stage , May 14, 2013, accessed on July 11, 2015 .
  18. ^ Claus Fischer: Kafka as an opera. “The process” on stage. Deutschlandfunk , April 3, 2015, accessed on July 11, 2015 .
  19. ^ Philip Glass' musical journey. Excerpted from 'Words Without Music: A Memoir' by Philip Glass. University of Chicago , April 13, 2015, accessed July 9, 2015 .

Web links

Commons : Philip Glass  - collection of images, videos and audio files