The 31st of January marked the 75th birthday of Philip Glass, arguably the most influential composer of the 20th century. He’s worked with everyone from Brian Eno to David Bowie, changed the stuffy pre-conceptions of what classical music should be and had a bit of a hand in the invention of dubstep. Generally tarred with the “minimalist” brush, Glass has been one of the few classically trained composers to be a success in an increasingly “anti-classical” music scene.
Born in Baltimore, Glass found himself influenced by the modern music of Bartok and Schonenberg as well as the more common Western classical composers like Beethoven and Mozart. Glass trained in piano at the Juilliard School where he also studied compostion with Steve Reich, a fellow minimalist composer. Reich’s influence was clear on Glass, who was inspired by watching him to perform to focus on simplification of his style. Glass has continued to find new ways of exploring music throughout his life, writing everything from operas to symphonies.
Minimalism is often overlooked as being boring and thoughtless; random motifs repeated but Glass showed that there was a beauty in simplicity which was being ignored. And the modern musical stars of the age responded. Glass has recorded with Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, among others. Two of his symphonies ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ were based on the thematic material of the Bowie-Eno collaboration albums of the same name, written in Berlin in the mid-70s. The influence of Philip Glass does not end there. Dev Hynes (aka Test Icicles/Lightspeed Champion/Blood Orange) has often mentioned the effect Philip Glass had on him growing up and continues to have on him. And if you look at the sparse bleeps and beats of everything from synth pop to dubstep you can be guaranteed that Philip Glass had some kind of effect on it.
On the evening of his birthday, his 9th symphony is being premiered at the Carnegie Hall. A pretty impressive tribute to a man with one of the largest outputs of music over the past 50 years, especially considering most composers don’t even get close to writing 9 symphonies. The other prolific American composer of the 20th century, Leonard Bernstein (he wrote West Side Story kids) only wrote three. If you’ve never listened to Glass, you are ignoring one of the first people to tell the music industry that less is more, and I suggest you rectify the situation immediately.
By Jessy Parker