MUSIC BY PHILIP GLASS by Philip with Robert T. Jones Glass
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MUSIC BY PHILIP GLASS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The popular ""minimalist"" composer offers a solid, if rather flat, overview of his career thus far: a well-organized mixture of professional memoir and artistic credo, concentrating primarily on his trilogy of music-theater ""portraits"" (Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten). Glass begins by recalling his ""apprenticeship of sorts"" in the 1960's and early 1970's. Musically, despite a Juilliard M.A. and two years with Nadia Boulanger (learning ""to hear"" via her relentless pedagogy), he found no inspiring composing tradition till a ""protracted encounter"" with Ravi Shankar: Indian music's free, repetitious rhythmic structures were a major revelation. At the same time, Glass was working with the avant-garde Mabou Mines theater group, embracing the legacies of Artaud, Grotowski, the Living Theater, Beckett (Play above all), and--with his own Ensemble--becoming part of the Soho ""performance art"" scene. So his collaboration with designer/director Robert Wilson was near-inevitable. And the offbeat evolution of the grandiose Einstein--text contributions from actors, popular/critical acclaim, financial woes--provides the most fascinating material here. Intriguing, too, are the stories behind the European creation of Satygraha (vignettes from Gandhi's struggles in South Africa, with an all-Sanskrit text) and Akhnaten (a portrait of the ""peculiar"" monotheistic pharaoh, with the title role sung by a countertenor in a hermaphroditic body-suit). Glass is a moderately persuasive spokesman for his ""truly modern, or perhaps post-modern, aesthetic"": non-narrative, more visual than verbal, thematically portentous. Technical analyses of his developing musical style--""additive process,"" ""cyclic structure,"" use of the chaconne form, leitmotifs, key relationships--will delight fans. (Skeptics who find the music simplistic probably won't be converted, especially since Glass tends to ""discover"" techniques that any student of opera's standard repertory--which Glass scorns--will recognize as old-hat.) And a final chapter gives much briefer treatment to Glass' works for the recording studio (Glassworks, Songs from Liquid Days) and film (Koyaanisqatsi, Mishima), as well as other theater-pieces. Filled out with photos (not seen) and the strange librettos for the trilogy: a serious, impersonal, even-tempered self-portrait--rarely stylish or eloquent but quietly impressive, and richly informative in its agreeable blend of the practical and the visionary.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harper & Row