You may not realize that you've heard the music of Philip Glass before, but if you've seen films such as Martin Scorsese's "Kundun, Monsters of Grace," or 1999's "The Truman Show," then in fact you have. Best known for his film scores, Philip Glass is among the most widely recognized and innovative modern classical composers and musicians.
Although his work is simply classified as minimal, his projects and innovations cross boundaries between various musical arts including dance, theater and film, featuring an eclectic array of contemporary electronic and traditional instruments reflecting a wide variety of stylistic influences from across the ages and the globe.
Philip Glass was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1937. He began by playing the violin at six and discovered his serious interest in music when be began playing the flute at eight, although one of the most direct influences on his early development as a composer was the experience of listening to records his father brought home from the family's radio repair shop.
In an attempt to understand why particular records didn't sell, Ben Glass would bring recorded works of Beethoven, Schubert, and other classical composers home to share with his three children. By listening to these more obscure sonatas and symphonies, Philip received an early education in lesser-known classical works and was inspired to pursue the musical arts.
After finishing high school early Philip entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15, where he majored in mathematics and philosophy. Between the several jobs he had to support himself, he still found time to practice piano and study the great composers.
After graduating at the age of 19 he moved to New York where he followed his dream of being a composer at the Juilliard School. He spent 4 years at Juilliard, before working with Ravi Shankar, the sitar composer, whose work had influenced the Beatles. While in his early 20's Philip spent a great deal of time traveling to Europe to study with the most well known composers of the time. It was in Paris that he continued his interest in Eastern and Indian music while transcribing the score for a film. These new techniques had a profound impact on his developing style and he spent several years researching music in Northern Africa, India and Nepal.
By the early 1970's he was composing his original works for various theater companies and his own group, the Philip Glass Ensemble. Lacking commercial success in the world of music at that time, he supported himself by working as a cab driver in New York. About this time, he became part of a group of avant-garde artists, musicians and playwrights, including Chuck Close, the photo-realist, who has done a number of celebrated portraits of Glass. In 1976 he collaborated with Robert Wilson to write the opera, "Einstein on the Beach," considered a turning point and landmark achievement in contemporary music-theater.
Following the success of this project, he continued to work with filmmakers writing symphonic works and scores to accompany documentaries, mainstream Hollywood movies, and more non-traditional film projects such as the richly image-based films "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi." He has written opera, symphonies and scores for dance, film and other more avant-garde musical groups such as the Kronos Quartet, and has more recently reworked the music of David Bowie for the "Heroes" Symphony. Most recently, Glass has produced Chamber music, concertos, symphonies, and more music written for films.
The music of Philip Glass is difficult to describe because of the complex, yet subtle layering of atmospheric sounds and instrumentation. It is referred to as minimal because often compositions are based on a singular sound or rhythm that is repeated and explored in-depth throughout the piece. The changes in mood and intensity are slowly developed and repeat throughout, building to an almost overwhelming assemblage of sounds and uninterrupted hypnotic rhythms.