Philip Glass on American Masters

Philip Glass on American Masters

I am endlessly fascinated by Philip Glass and his music. I do not remember when it started. It must have started with John Schaefer and New Sounds at WNYC. I bought my first LP in a used record shop in Ithaca, New York while visiting Eric at Cornell University. That was in 1984. When did New Sounds start? I am still fascinated today. Some people feel that Glass has written and re-written the same thing over and over. I cannot feel that way. I just recently acquired a pretty complete library of the music. Somehow, I think that Symphony No. 7 is missing. I do not know how that happened. I also have the complete Qatsi film trilogy.

The American Masters production on the life of Philip Glass is very worthwhile: Philip at home; Philip with his kids and with Holly, his wife; Philip at work in his writing spaces; Philip in rehearsal mostly with Dennis Russell Davies, but also with the Philip Glass Ensemble; Philip in Australia; Philip at the Metropolitan Opera for “Barbarians”. There are short spots with film creators with and for whom he has worked: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Godfrey Reggio, and Errol Morris.

There is nothing that I can write here that would be missing from the Wikipedia entry on Philip Glass, except my own observations. I see the music as being very simple in the way that Wagner is simple. Simple easily understood melodies. Philip seems to me to work with “very few elements”, a phrase used by Arvo Part to describe much of his “tintinabulation”. But it is also mind-blowingly complex in the orchestrations. In conversation with Davies in the back of a limousine Philip evidences his constant willingness to add or subtract in any passage at any time. An instrument here, a figure there.

Music is for Philip Glass an “…endless passion for all aspects of his life…”, I think that is how Holly describes it. Toward the end of the film, one learns that with Philip, as with many people gifted and obsessed in the way that Philip is, life around him can be lonely for the others to whom he should be the closest. Is he married to Holly or Davies? This is a silly question, but it is there.

I highly recommend this film for anyone at all interested in music of the late 20th century.