b. Baltimore, Maryland, 31 January 1937
One of the founders of American 'Minimalism' and a prolific composer in all genres – from solo piano pieces to symphonic works, operas and film, dance and theatre scores – Philip Glass possesses one of the most instantly recognisable styles in modern music.
Glass grew up in Baltimore, acquiring a taste for commercial music while selling Elvis Presley records in his father's music store. An accomplished flautist and violinist, he was only 15 when he attended Chicago University to study maths and philosophy. By the late 1950s he was at the Juilliard School in New York, from where he went on to study with Darius Milhaud and Nadia Boulanger. He seemed to be on his way to a conventional composerly career, but then in the mid-1960s he met sitarist Ravi Shankar, who introduced him to the additive structures of Indian music. Glass set off across India, the Himalayas and North Africa on a new musical quest.
Returning to New York in 1967, he gave loft concerts with fellow 'Minimalists' Terry Riley and Steve Reich, and formed his own Philip Glass Ensemble to play such 'systems' pieces as Music in Similar Motion (1969) and Music in Changing Parts (1970). The breakthrough came with the opera Einstein on the Beach (1976), a hallucinogenic four-hour collaboration with theatre conceptualist Robert Wilson. A sell-out at the Met, it pushed Minimalism into the mainstream and Glass's first digital album, Glassworks (1982), went on to be a smash right across the musical spectrum, from heavy metal fans to Dean Martin lovers. Drawing on the lives of Gandhi and a sun-worshipping Egyptian pharaoh, the operas Satyagraha (1980) and Akhnaten (1984) completed the so-called 'portrait trilogy' begun with Einstein and thrillingly combined his trademark repetitions and overlappings with epic ceremonial staging. From the same period came an operatic collaboration with novelist Doris Lessing, The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982), and The Juniper Tree (1985), a reworking of the Grimm tale.
Subsequent music-theatre and opera projects include a setting of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher (1988); The Voyage (1992), written for the 500th anniversary of Columbus's 'discovery' of America; and three works based on films by Jean Cocteau: the stage opera Orphée (1993), the 'film opera' La Belle et le Bête (1994) and the 'dance opera' Les Enfants Terribles (1996). His most recent large-scale theatrical work, the Civil War opera Appomattox, was premiered in 2007.
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