Philip Glass' Best Recordings

Categories: Music Notes, Opera

2. Einstein on the Beach (1979)

Einstein on the Beach, the first segment of Glass' "portrait opera" trilogy, is a non-plot, abstract affair indirectly inspired by the life of Albert Einstein. A theatrical collaboration with avant-garde playwright Robert Wilson, Glass' first opera inspired a documentary (The Changing Image of Opera), and has been described as "one of the seminal artworks of the century." The scope of this thing is daunting: five intermission-less hours of merciless instrumental energy and vocal focus that's as mesmerizing as it is extensive. Without question, it's worth every minute. The music here sees Glass' famed aesthetic expand and evolve, incorporating not only the required dramatic intent of the opera form, but also a more enriched palette complete with a comparatively fuller classicist bent. Einstein on the Beach is Glass' most daring large-scale triumph, and, in my opinion, one of the most dazzling experiences you can have with headphones.

1. Music in Twelve Parts (1974, 1988)

Within these 12 utterly flooring movements, written over the course of three years, you see it all: Glass at his most hypnotic, Glass at his most inventive, Glass at his most challenging, Glass at his most perfect. Whether on first exposure or after countless revisits, Music in Twelve Parts never ceases to amaze. The effect of its fragmentary, perma-evolving structures is strikingly disorienting, yet intensely euphoric. Music in Twelve Parts' four-hour deluge of minutely shifting additive and subtractive processes is a delight in aural observation -- an endless stream of fascination can be had in trying to unwind its elegant strands. In light of this achievement, it's no wonder Glass is so feverishly revered outside of classical circles. This work is more punk than punk rock, more kaleidoscopic than psychedelic music, more infectious than pop, more out-of-body than new age, and more browbeating than the most hellish of heavy-metal. Even Glass understood the weight of his accomplishment, famously stating afterward that, for him, Music in Twelve Parts represented "the end of minimalism."

Note: Though an abridged disc came out in 1974, the full set would not see a release until 1988.

Honorable Mentions:

Passages (with Ravi Shankar)



Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass

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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.


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).


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


@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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