Dec 12, 2010

The following text was derived from an interview with Phillip Glass and from a speech he gave in Taipei on 10 April 2007.

Phillip Glass On Minimalism

I don’t ever use the word minimalism. My personal history is as follows…

Phillip Glass

The period which we call minimalism is from 1965 to 1975. It has a historical reference, because the generation of composers that I’m a part of were making a statement about the language of music and the generation of musicians just before us. There were brilliant and wonderful composers of the generation before, people like Boulez, Barrio and Stockhausen. They believed that their music would influence the next generation. I think they were a little disappointed and quite angry when my generation decided to go in a different direction. But from our point of view we were enriching the language of music. We were not doing it to deny what they had done. If we look at the young composers today, we can see that they write in very eclectic and very different styles. Many young people are working in tonal music, some in the serial style of the earlier generation. Specifically, this minimalist style was a question of using a reductive language, basing it on repetitive structures, very often influenced by music from Asia. So you can say that this early generation [mine] was the first to really looking outside of the Western, Central European tradition for influences in music. I personally participated in collaboration with a number of people. Ravi Shankar was one, and Foday Musa Suso from Africa, and quite a few musicians whose training was not in the Central European tradition that I was trained in. We are now at a stage in music where it is becoming a truly international language. My generation were among the first Westerner musicians to approach the idea of world music.

I don’t ever use the word minimalism. My personal history is as follows. When I was twenty I began writing music for the theatre, and when I was 29 I began the Ensemble, doing mostly concert music. So I was working in two ways: in the theatre and in the concert hall. But eventually these two tendencies were combined into one work, a piece called Einstein on the Beach.

In the early 1970s I was in New York with my ensemble, playing concerts. Robert Wilson was also in New York with his theatre ensemble. Eventually, we came to know each other. I saw his work and he saw my music, and we had the idea that we should do a piece together. So we began to talk about the subject, and we met every week and had lunch together one day every week. That went on for about a year and over that time we decided to do the life of Einstein. We would use my music ensemble.

Now when I look at the totality of the work that I’ve done up to now, it appears as if three quarters if not more is related to theatre. When I say theatre I mean the elements of text, of movement, of image and sound. Those elements are the four, like earth, air, fire and water. In concert music we don’t have those elements so much. We have the existence of music only. We don’t really have the other elements. When I’m working, I have a great experience of working in these theatrical forms, so that even when I’m doing concerts, to some degree it has influenced how I think about it, how I shape a program, the order of the music, when I announce the pieces. All of those things I learned from being in the theatre.

When I say theatre I also mean dance, film, opera and theatre itself. By its nature, this work will be collaborative. I’ll be working with choreographers, cinematographers, writers, singers. These could all be elements of collaboration. I can even say that you can understand the work I’ve done very much in terms of the people I’ve collaborated with. I don’t believe that limits my participation, but expands it by acknowledging the influences of other artists in the work.