Philip Glass' Best Recordings

Categories: Music Notes, Opera

glass.jpg
Courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center

It's hard to overestimate the impact Philip Glass has had on classical music. Apart from being (arguably) the world's greatest living composer, Glass almost single handedly brought minimalism into contemporary popular culture -- influencing legions of rock and electronic artists while simultaneously introducing classical music to a generation of otherwise uninterested listeners. The composer/performer's recorded output displays a staggering variety, sprawling over a massive collection of works, including everything from dance pieces and film scores to large-scale operas and symphonies.

It was during a working relationship with famed Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar that Glass developed his melodically cyclical trademark, an Eastern-steeped approach that has not only defined the composer's career, but in a very real sense changed the course of music. Philip Glass, the legend himself, has a date at the Winspear Opera House today. Thus, in celebration of the artist's highly influential career, as well as his upcoming local performance, we present the five best Philip Glass recordings (in reverse order).

5. Glassworks (1982)

Glassworks always deserves to chart on lists like this, for the simple fact that it's largely responsible for manufacturing Philip Glass the pop figure -- a classical musician who could sell records for the car, while sacrificing none of his integrity. It's not his strongest music, granted, but it was never meant to be: "Glassworks was intended to introduce my music to a more general audience than had been familiar with it up to then." However, one never gets the sense, when listening, that Glassworks contains watered down or otherwise compromised compositions. They're every bit as reflective of the man's genius as the rest of his repertoire. The six pieces here are direct and hauntingly melodic, ranging from the gorgeous -- cascading arpeggio synth patterns -- to the jostling unexpected floods of Glassian cell repetition (they also happen to pay considerable homage to Erik Satie). If you've never been exposed to Glass this is a great place to start.


4. Solo Music (1975)

Recorded in New York City in 1975 and released on the highly collectible and deliciously hip Shandar label, Solo Music consists of only two pieces: "Contrary Motion" and "Two Pages." For reasons beyond me, this release is often ignored (even by Glass fanatics). The pixilated, Gothic tones drawn throughout these compositions bring to mind Glass' future soundtrack work (especially Dracula); thus, instilling moods that are at once futuristic and tastefully archaic. While the colors are relatively unvaried, Solo Music finds Glass toying with texture unlike anywhere else in his discography, building sonic depths uniquely suited to twilight rumination.

3. Music with Changing Parts (1971)

Released on his own press, Chatham Square Productions, Music with Changing Parts was Glass' first recorded work. Furthermore, in what was an unusual move for classical music at the time, Glass played the role of both performer and composer here. To this day, it remains one of Glass' most maddeningly monochromatic releases. In fact, many ardent fans will argue that this the artist's finest offering. Agree or disagree, there is something to be said about the purity of Music with Changing Parts; it feels seminal and unadulterated in a way that none of his other sets do. Here you get to see Glass before age, popularity and academic concerns caught up to him, when his linear ferocity and unwavering intensity made him one the most radical up-and-comers in all of classical music.



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4 comments
losingmyreligion
losingmyreligion

Elitism? The Who? Expanding on avant-garde music moving into pop?


Just trying to fill in some historic background I felt the post was lacking ...  I happen to love 'Einstein on the Beach,' still the work that was Glass' breakthrough.

losingmyreligion
losingmyreligion

Glad you put that "almost" in "almost singlehandedly brought minimalism into popular culture." There's LaMonte Young ("Minimalism proper begins with LaMonte Young, the master of the drone" - Alex Ross, 'The Rest Is Noise') who hired and influenced a pre-Velvet Underground John Cale and was a favorite of Brian Eno. There's Terry Riley, who influenced the Who (hence the title of the song, 'Baba O'Riley') and Steve Reich, who influenced Glass himself, hence Glass' 'Two Pages for Steve Reich' from 1968. Not to take anything away from the huge, popular breakthroughs of "Einstein on the Beach" and "Koyaanisqatsi,' I suspect if Glass had died in a wreck, driving his New York city cab in the mid- '70s, minimalism would still have moved decisively from the American avant-garde into American pop music. And speaking of such exchanges, I'd also recommend Glass' Low and Hero Symphonies (based on music by David Bowie and Brian Eno).

dallow
dallow

@losingmyreligion  Informative post, but I could taste the hipster-snob elitism dripping. Very bitter taste.

losingmyreligion
losingmyreligion

@dallow @losingmyreligionElitism? The Who? Approving the avant-garde's move into pop?

Just trying to provide some historical context to a post that, for its part, can sound like it's slighting other minimalist masters for the purpose of hero worship. I happen to love 'Einstein on the Beach' and 'Glassworks,' two of Glass' major breakthroughs.

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