He’s prolific and complicated, an influential American composer, a genius whose distinctive style of creating melodic patterns of diatonic harmonies transfers from the operatic to symphonic, from concertos to film scores. Critics over the decades have disliked his repetitive sequences of notes or his assaulting experimentation. He cares not, for his art is an expression that cannot be harnessed or altered to suit the fancies of others. Here is an informative article about Glass by Tom Service from The Guardian, “A Music Guide to Philip Glass” .
Personally, I like his piano etudes, his Violin Concerto no. 1, his String Quartet no. 3 “Mishima” and most of all, his film scores. Another interesting way of exploring Philip Glass is by watching the 2007 documentary by Scott Hicks, Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts.
Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer winner is an excellent book, but this is a rare instance where the film version is equal, if not surpasses, the reading experience. This is due to the acting, the editing, and the score. The film blends the lives of three women separated by time but united with problems of depression, alienation, suffocation, and the hardest part of life–getting through the hours when each one feels like a drop of water on the forehead. With a superb cast and subtle, sensitive performances by everyone: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, Stephen Dillane, Allison Janney, John C. Reilly, and Miranda Richardson, the score functions as a sad waltz corresponding to the plight of three women who seek freedom from their pain. Suicide is a major theme. Death a constant companion. While these are heavy topics, the script adapted by David Hare, connects the three women in a single day, echoing insights given in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. One way this is accomplished is through the editing. Each woman performs the same daily task. The lost look in the morning, the reflection at the mirror as if to say, “Must we be together, again?” Or, the arrangement of flowers throughout the home does not comfort or bring cheer.
Nicole Kidman never looked or acted better in this Oscar-winning performance as Virginia Woolf. Julianne Moore played the 50s suburbanite wife who can’t bake a cake and whose needy son somehow senses her life is a fraud. Meryl Streep’s Clarissa needs to take care of her dying friend to feel alive while the dying friend experiences the mother he never had. The warped co-dependent relationship is executed with Ed Harris with painful results. This is a beautiful, symmetrical, and satisfying film.
Other Philip Glass scores I love:
The Truman Show (1998)
Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997) “Potala”
Notes on a Scandal (2006)
The Illusionist (2006)
The Fog of War
What about you? What are your favorite Philip Glass contributions?