An engaging memoir of an adventuresome, iconoclastic career.
The composer of 25 operas, 30 movie soundtracks and scores of other works, Glass (b. 1937) reflects on friendship, love, fatherhood and more than 70 years in music. Growing up in Baltimore, he played the flute; by the age of 15, he was the classical music buyer for his father’s record store. As a high school sophomore, he took an early-entrance exam to the University of Chicago. To everyone’s surprise but his, he passed and spent the next four years in that rich intellectual community, reveling in the city’s major, and diverse, musical venues. One question obsessed him: “Where does music come from?” Composing, he decided, might help him find the answer. When he graduated, Glass submitted a small portfolio of compositions as application to Juilliard. Although not admitted immediately because he lacked academic preparation, after a few years as a nonmatriculated student, he earned a scholarship to the school’s small department of composition. Like Chicago, New York opened up a thrilling aesthetic world. To support himself as a student and long after, Glass worked as a furniture mover, sheetrock installer, studio assistant to artist Richard Serra, self-taught plumber and taxi driver. He composed much of his opera Einstein at the Beach, he writes, “at night after driving a cab.” In the 1960s and ’70s, Glass became deeply interested in Eastern culture: hatha yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoist qi gong and tai chi, all of which influenced his music. Equally crucial were his teachers, especially the imperious Nadia Boulanger, with whom he studied in Paris, and Ravi Shankar. Undaunted by critics who called his music “nonsense,” Glass aimed to create an emotional experience for his listeners, with music that felt “like a force of nature…organic and powerful, and mindful, too.”
Writing with warmth and candor, Glass portrays himself as driven, self-confident and tenaciously determined to invent his own, radically new musical language.