Non-fiction: Music

‘Einstein on the Beach’ from Music by Philip Glass by Philip Glass

Yes, I’ll admit it, even if it makes me pretentious. I like Philip Glass. There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to. What kind of statement could be even more pretentious? I like, nay, love, a Philip Glass…opera. Yes! Einstein on the Beach! So wonderful. Full of repetition, solfege (solfege!), a libretto that barely makes sense, lines spoken across one another, and…dare I say it? A spaceship.


But even though I love Einstein on the Beach, I had absolutely no idea what it was all about. Luckily, Philip Glass himself was kind enough to explain it to a certain extent.

I haven’t read all of Music by Philip Glass. I figure it probably wouldn’t make as much sense or be as helpful to read about music with which I am not familiar. So this review is really just about the Einstein on the Beach chapter. It was really interesting. He talks all about the process of how he collaborated with, oh, what’s his name, Wilson, Robert Wilson and how they came up with their ideas. It’s really interesting. As far as I can tell, Einstein on the Beach isn’t really about Einstein so much as like a collage of things that are meant to remind you of Einstein and then think about him on your own time. Which means that this is one of those performances where the audience is just as important as the performers because without the audience, Einstein on the Beach has no meaning.

Cool, huh? I don’t think it’s a really new idea, nor was Glass the first to do it, but I still think it’s cool. Most of the text was written, if I understood correctly, by a fourteen-year-old boy with a developmental disability, which is why it has that borderline making sense feel to it. But it’s also beautifully poetic. I don’t know if it’s just the sounds of the words that he chose or the rhythms or what, but it’s amazing. The rest of the text was written by the soloists and has the same stream-of-consciousness feel to it.

He even went into a little bit of detail about how they learned it (one small passage each day and then that one plus a new one the next, and so on), how they generated publicity (word of mouth at fringe festivals), how they managed to get picked up by the Met, and how they didn’t make any money at all.

Although he talked a little bit about the score and provided two or three examples, I wish he could have gone into more detail. His music is fascinating, the way it repeats, repeats, repeats, and then suddenly you realise it’s ever-so-slightly different and definitely going somewhere. I need to get my hands on a score for this.

Also, and I will be adding points to my rating just for this, he has the best quote EVAR on the front cover. You know how authors get other authors or people who are well-known in the field they’re writing about to say something like ‘So-and-so’s take on this subject is revolutionary and mind-blowing; I wish I’d thought of it’ or ‘Anne is the next J.K. Rowling.’ That sort of thing? Well, here’s Phil’s:

Does that rock or what? OMG with the hilarity. Seriously, it still makes me laugh out loud to read it. Sometimes I just say it to myself and it makes me laugh.


My rating: B+ for lack of score, but A- for most awesome quote ever.

And because it’s so awesome, I’m going to give you a sample (it’s an opera, so it’s mega-expensive and it’s Philip Glass, so it’s not for everybody, so either check out this excerpt or head down to your local library and see if they can get a hold of it for you). So here’s my favorite part of Einstein on the Beach:

Philip Glass – Knee 5 from Einstein on the Beach


One thought on “Non-fiction: Music

  1. Pingback: Music theory… « My blank page

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