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Music / Philip Glass

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Philip Glass (b. January 31, 1937) is an American composer known for his work in minimalist music. He first came to prominence with his experimental opera Einstein on the Beach, and since then has written prolifically for theater, film, and concert hall alike. He also founded and directs the Philip Glass Ensemble, which has produced acclaimed performances and recordings of much of his music.

His music characteristically features repetitive arpeggios and ostinati that slowly evolve and develop harmonically over time. His work in film scores makes him one of the most recognizable and successful composers working today. For the concert stage, he's written at least 15 operas, 14 symphonies, 9 string quartets, and a long list of works for chamber ensembles, orchestra, and solo instruments.

Glass's work, while never popular in the mainstream eye (due to both its avant-garde nature and classical music in general having taken a backseat in the music world for centuries), has been highly influential on actually mainstream artists. In particular, Glass' work was a considerable source of inspiration for David Bowie, who would inspire Glass in turn to compose works based on Bowie's music, and Talking Heads, who took cues from his brand of minimalism during their own trysts with abstract, avant-garde-inspired rock, which itself would continue to influence later mainstream artists to this very day. As a result, Glass could be considered one of the most influential obscure artists by pure proxy.

Fun fact: Philip Glass is the first cousin once removed of This American Life host Ira Glass. They've recorded a few conversations for the program, talking about each other's work.

Works with music by Philip Glass include:


  • Broken Record: Glass's music is often described as repetitive, part of the influence of minimalist style.
  • Minimalism: Glass's works in the 1960s and 1970s are considered to be among the most important contributions to the musical genre, but he resists the label as applying to his later works.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Glass composed a short set of pieces called "The Geometry of Circles" especially for Sesame Street.
  • Shout-Out: Three of Glass's symphonies are inspired by David Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy", a triptych of musically and lyrically abstract art rock albums released between 1977 and 1979. Each symphony is based on musical and/or lyrical motifs from each of the three albums in the trilogy:
    • Glass's 1st Symphony (1992) is based off of Low, featuring movements titled after the instrumental tracks "Subterraneans", "Some Are"note , and "Warszawa".
    • Glass's 4th Symphony (1996) is based off of "Heroes", featuring movements titled after the tracks ""Heroes"", "Abdulmajid"note , "Sense of Doubt", "Sons of the Silent Age", "Neuköln", and "V2 Schneider".
    • Glass's 12th Symphony (2018) is based off of Lodger.
  • Sincerest Form of Flattery: Averted. Glass explained that he rejected the style of earlier Avant-Garde Music composers such as Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen because he thought it was so good that there was no point in trying to do the same style better.
  • Waiting for a Break: Glass worked odd jobs as a cab driver and plumber in New York even while he was beginning to be successful as a composer. This led to a memorable encounter when he wound up installing a dishwasher in a loft that turned out to belong to a gobsmacked Robert Hughes, art critic for Time magazine. On another occasion, a passenger in his cab remarked, "Young man, did you know you have the same name as a very famous composer?"