Closing in on the end of Philip Glass's memoir, Words Without Music, only twenty pages to go, I don't want it to end. He's wrapping things up, approaching the moment he's writing from. He did a rare thing, wrote his way to a composer successful in the world of music and successful within himself, without teaching. He saw that he wanted to live and work in New York. An academic job could settle him in Phoenix or Seattle. He wanted the creative energy New York generates. He worked moving furniture and driving a cab through his twenties and thirties, jobs flexible enough he could take time off to do a gig in Germany or California. He is the first composer to use amplification. He liked the dynamic sound amplification gave rock, even put together a small group of musicians, a band, The Philip Glass Ensemble, a vehicle for his compositions. He plays an electric keyboard. While reading in the memoir, I've been listening to some of his music in my collection, hearing it with fresh ears. Before, I only knew I liked hearing his music, everything I've heard. Now I have a little bit of an idea of what his music is about, what he's doing and the spirit he's doing it in, esp the spirit. I hear more in his music than ever before.
philip glass ensemble
Playing now, La Belle et la Bete, Beauty and the Beast, Glass's opera of French poet, Jean Cocteau's surrealist film. It's a soundtrack to the film Cocteau made in 1946, soon after the war in Paris. The Glass music is from 1994. The film with Glass soundtrack can be seen on YouTube, the full film. I've seen it before Glass and after Glass. It is a glorious, beautiful film, either way. I first saw it in an art film series in Charleston, 1968, thereabouts, before Glass. It was such an exhilarating film, the audience broke into spontaneous applause at the end. Saw it with Glass music a few years ago from netflix. The music doesn't change the film. It gives the film a new dimension, even fades into the background watching the film, at the same time gives the black and white film a contemporary edge. It was contemporary half a century before Glass's soundtrack, become ancient in film history, a timeless ancient tale of a prince and princess, made contemporary again by Philip Glass's musical vision.
la belle et la bete
A man of many dimensions, Glass paid attention to music from all over the world. He found in Indian music a structure different from European, studying with Ravi Shankar, and found more in West Africa. Just now took an interlude and found on YouTube a tune of Glass with Gambian kora player, Foday Musa Suso. A kora is a big gourd body, a long hardwood neck with 21 strings he plays like a harp. It has subtleties the master knows. Glass's musical education had been in European ideas of music, though he came to see music a fluid form he could play with in new ways never explored before. He was a yoga practitioner, vegetarian, meditated, went to Nepal to a Tibetan village, Darjeeling in India, high elevation in the Himalaya, looking for an advanced meditation teacher. He started collecting Tibetan art for his home, was drawn to Tibet like moth to light source. Learning of his connection with Tibetan spiritual teachings answered why I felt Tibetan music in his work. He made soundtrack for the Scorsese film, Kundun, a Tibetan story, which I think I'll run to the top of the netflix Q to see it again soon, while Glass and his music is fresh in my head.
I've enjoyed watching the fate of a remarkably brilliant human being unfold in his own observations and words. It can be said he was destined from birth to do what he has done single-mindedly, like somebody born knowing what he had to do. He wasn't long getting it and walked like climbing a staircase, one step at a time, learning with a quick, retentive mind. He plays his compositions from memory. His study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger I found perhaps most interesting of all the steps along his way. She is a teacher in Paris anyone who is serious about composition must study with. Like in bluegrass, young musicians got their bluegrass credentials picking with Bill Monroe. I'd wondered about Nadia Boulanger for decades. I remember when a biography of her was published. I wanted to read it, but it was a peripheral interest at the time and I was off on the trail of one or more of my more direct interests at the time. I've had this curiosity of what it was about her touch that was so valued by composers. She was like the most advanced of advanced teachers, so advanced she could teach at home and the students came to her. Glass gave me a sense of presence, her teaching, self-knowledge gained, how she confirmed the young composer in his own direction.