I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. ~William Butler Yeats
In the 1970s when I was a young woman hearing Philip Glass’ music for the first time, I didn’t like it. The repetitiveness of it bored me, then bothered me.
That all changed on June 4, 2016, when a friend and I went to a Phoenix Symphony concert where Glass’ The Secret Agent was performed. I didn’t expect to like it. Instead, it was my favorite piece on the program, one that I frequently now seek out.
In researching today’s post, I read a fascinating and detailed article on Wikipedia. Rather than try to paraphrase it, I have pulled out a few interesting segments; if you want more information on Philip Glass, I direct you to that link above.
Philip Glass was born January 31, 1937. He is an accomplished pianist and one of the most influential American composers of the late 20th century through today. Glass’s work has been described as minimalism, being built up from repetitive phrases and shifting layers.
Glass founded the Philip Glass Ensemble, with which he still performs on keyboards.
You may just want this music playing in the background as you work today:
He was the son of Lithuanian-Jewish emigrants. His father owned a record store and his mother was a librarian. At the end of World War II his mother aided Jewish Holocaust survivors, inviting recent arrivals to America to stay at their home until they could find a job and a place to live. She developed a plan to help them learn English and acquire skills they would need for work.
Glass inherited his appreciation of music from his father, who often received promotional copies of new recordings at his music store. He spent many hours listening to them, developing his knowledge and taste in music. This openness to modern sounds affected Glass at an early age. He wrote in his memoir, “My father was self-taught, but he ended up having a very refined and rich knowledge of classical, chamber, and contemporary music. Typically he would come home and have dinner, and then sit in his armchair and listen to music until almost midnight. I caught on to this very early, and I would go and listen with him.”
Glass built a sizable record collection from the unsold records in his father’s store, including modern classical music such as Hindemith, Bartók, Schoenberg, Shostakovich and Western classical music including Beethoven’s string quartets and Schubert’s B♭ Piano Trio. Glass cites Schubert as a “big influence” growing up, his favorite composer, and by coincidence, shares his birthday with him.
At the age of 15, he entered an accelerated college program at the University of Chicago where he studied mathematics and philosophy. In Chicago he discovered the serialism of Anton Webern and composed a twelve-tone string trio. In 1954 Glass traveled to Paris, where he encountered the films of Jean Cocteau, which made a lasting impression on him. He visited artists’ studios and saw their work; he said, “the bohemian life you see in [Cocteau’s] Orphée was the life I … was attracted to, and those were the people I hung out with.”
Glass studied at the Juilliard School of Music where the keyboard was his main instrument. One of his fellow students was another favorite composer of mine, musical satirist Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).
In 1964, Glass received a Fulbright Scholarship; his studies in Paris with the eminent composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, from autumn of 1964 to summer of 1966, influenced his work throughout his life, as the composer admitted in 1979: “The composers I studied with Boulanger are the people I still think about most—Bach and Mozart.”
His distinctive style arose in part from Ravi Shankar’s perception of rhythm in Indian music as being entirely additive. Glass renounced all his compositions in a moderately modern style resembling Milhaud’s, Aaron Copland’s, and Samuel Barber’s, and began writing pieces based on repetitive structures of Indian music and a sense of time influenced by Samuel Beckett.
Despite being an accomplished musician and composer, in the early years he did not completely support himself from his art. In addition to his music career, Glass had a moving company with his cousin, the sculptor Jene Highstein, and also worked as a plumber and cab driver (during 1973 to 1978). He remembers installing a dishwasher and looking up from his work to see an astonished Robert Hughes, Time magazine’s art critic, staring at him.
Though he finds the term minimalist inaccurate to describe his later work, Glass does accept this term for pieces up to and including Music in 12 Parts, excepting this last part which “was the end of minimalism” for Glass. As he pointed out: “I had worked for eight or nine years inventing a system, and now I’d written through it and come out the other end.” He now prefers to describe himself as a composer of “music with repetitive structures”.
Here is more music to run in the background as you work:
Glass composed his first violin concerto with his father in mind: “His favorite form was the violin concerto, and so I grew up listening to the Mendelssohn, the Paganini, the Brahms concertos. … So when I decided to write a violin concerto, I wanted to write one that my father would have liked.”
Philip Glass’ body of work includes numerous operas and musical theatre works, twelve symphonies, eleven concertos, eight string quartets and various other chamber music, and film scores. Three of his film scores, Kundun (1997), The Hours (2002), and Notes on a Scandal (2006), were nominated for Academy Awards; in 1998 he won the Golden Globe for best original score for The Truman Show.
Fun fact: Glass is the first cousin once removed of Ira Glass, host of the radio show This American Life.
Some interesting stuff; some funny stuff; some deep stuff.
- This one’s a little hard to look at. A sculptor made prosthetic masks for soldiers disfigured in World War I.
- Can you stand any more Covid-19 jokes?
- Many variations on the tangle Printemps.
- How to machine-quilt a border with an S-curve ruler.
- A prayer from 1968 that is so timely today.
- Do you have books you read and reread multiple times? Me, too.
- What if they had texting in Medieval times?
- The truth about Meissen porcelain.
- A professional watercolorist’s life.
- Spiritual director Marsha Crockett’s journal provides guided meditations and contemplative helps. You can also follow her on Instagram.
- One of my favorite artists painted a lovely portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and paired it with a poetic tribute.
- I’ve read some of these books (and they were great) and seen rave reviews of others. Anyway, if you don’t know what to read next, maybe pick something off this list.
Go ahead: waste 21 minutes. I promised you won’t regret it.
Music is a source of creative inspiration for me. When I taught elementary music, I occasionally passed out drawing paper and crayons and had the students draw a scene suggested by music I played for them.
Some authors make WIP-specific playlists that puts them in the zone as they work on their projects.
Yesterday I tried an experiment. I turned my iTunes on shuffle and hit play, then wrote down the scene I saw in my head as I listened. Here’s what came up:
- J.S. Bach, French Suite No.2 in C minor: Sarabande. Played on harpsichord. I imagined Marie Antoinette with her powered up-do swishing around her palace in one of her low-cut, full-skirted gowns.
- Peter Davison, Invoking the Warriorfrom Adagio: Music for Tai Chi. An instructor at a gym I used to attend had the best workout music. I fell in love with this piece and asked her what it was so I could buy it. While listening, I imagined a scene from The Last Samuri when Tom Cruise watched the warriors practice and then joined in and got the tar beat out of him.
- Muzio Clementi, Sonatina No. 3 in F Major, Op. 38, 1st movement, on piano. I imagined a piano teacher working with a talented young student, demonstrating trills and turns. The student struggles with them, keeps repeating them, and gradually is able to play them smoothly and up to tempo, to the delight of his teacher.
- Astor Piazzolla, Libertango. I imagined a scene where the camera alternates between showing the musicians who have a deep rapport really digging into the music, allowing each other to improvise solos, and then showing the dancers who are flirting with one another as they sensuously explore the nuances of the tango.
- Gordon Lightfoot, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I imagined a young man walking along a shore while winds blew and dark clouds gathered and lightning flashed and finally rain came down in sheets. The man struggled to keep upright against the wind, and finally turned away from the sea and looked for shelter.
- Felix Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture. Though this doesn’t relate to midsummer at all, I imagined a couple in a horse-drawn as snow came down. They sped silently through woods and fields with a sense of urgency.
- Simon and Garfunkel, The Sun Is Burning. This doesn’t match the words, but based on the guitar line and the soft voices, I see a little boy digging in a sandbox on a beautiful sunny day.
- Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 4, 3rd movement, rondo. Part of the music sounds martial in nature, and I imagined soldiers marching in a parade. But I didn’t know what to do with my soldiers when the music sounded less military. Making they could just take a break for a minute until the rhythm returns. . .
Any of these little snippets could be the germ of a short story or a novel. Now, someone else listening to this music could envision something entirely different than what I saw, and, of course, that’s wonderful. Inspiration is magic.
Now it’s your turn. Choose any of these pieces of music (or even something not on this list) and describe the scene that plays forth in your imagination. Share with us in the comments below.