Gregor’s Bed – Philip Glass, Symphony No. 9

Recent Discoveries from the Realm of the Experimental and the Avant-Garde

Album: Philip Glass, Symphony No. 9 (2012)

Bruckner Orchester Linz, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies

?Artists do not experiment. Experiment is what scientists do; they initiate an operation of unknown factors to be instructed by its results. An artist puts down what he knows and at every moment it is what he knows at that moment.?

Gertrude Stein

?When I struck out in my own music language, I took a step out of the world of serious music, according to most of my teachers. But I didn’t care. I could row the boat by myself, you know? I didn’t need to be on the big liner with everybody else.?

Philip Glass

Tones That Speak of Thoughts Too Deep for Tears

What would it have been like to be one of Philip Glass’s passengers, back when he was a New York cabbie? What would he have talked about? If he’d told you he was writing a symphony, would you have believed him? And even if you had, would you have guessed that he would soon become one of the most important composers of the late 20th century?

Glass’s early vocations, as well as his personality?open, frank, and wholesome?are hard to match up with the sometimes grandiose and ponderous work he composes. His father ran a record store in Baltimore and Glass’s collection was full of albums that didn’t sell, mostly modern composers like Hindemith and Schonberg: music virtually unpalatable to your average record buyer. Although Glass now claims to be more focussed on Bach and Mozart and his work reflects the influence and inspiration of film and literature, the dissonant qualities of his early listening forays have clearly left their mark.

Glass has aimed for classical excellence but in on his own terms, breaking some of the rules of composition in the process. His music has the kind of repetitive structures common to non-Western world music; like Indian music in particular, Glass’s work features complex rhythmic patterns that overlap, disguising the transitions.

This symphony has the three-movement structure (a fast first, a slower second, and a fast third movement) common to many serious composers, including Mozart and Haydn; however, Glass also uses parallel fifths, breaking a cardinal rule of composition. The rich dissonance in Glass’s compositions has been attributed to the overtones generated by the peculiar intervals between his notes, resulting in a driving, joyful intensity.

Characteristic of most of Glass’s work, the movements here begin with oscillating strings that morph into rapidly ascending and descending half-scales. There are fascinating novel touches; one example is the wood blocks that sound like tap dancing pit ponies.

The opening of the second movement has a much different feel than Glass’s normal work. It evokes the romantic era and ?60s films of the Wild West: the sweeping strings speak of panoramic spaces and open skies and getting the girl. The style is closer to Wagner or Mahler than to Beethoven or Aaron Copeland.

For all its occasional prettiness, Glass’s 9th lacks warmth, but It’s teeming with emotive musical statements of fact like we might find in Bach (whom Glass admires): things that if we had to put them in words would comprise terse statements, like It’s all good (in Bach’s case), or (in Glass?s) Trouble’s a comin?.

Glass’s Symphony No. 9 exhibits an ominous, rising majesty in every bar. It reels in agony and drops only to rise and fight again. It might be described as a dignified cry of grief, but the kind of grief That’s both splendid and redemptive.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.

%d bloggers like this: