|About this Recording
GP745 - GLASS, P.: Glassworlds, Vol. 5 - Mad Rush / Metamorphosis II / 600 Lines (Enlightenment) (Horvath)
Glassworlds • 5
After our journey’s first stops through the Circle of Life—Opening, Virtuosity, Metamorphosis and Love—we are now able to better appreciate the uniqueness of Philip Glass and the many shades of his most sophisticated and spiritual compositions.
This programme centres on two mammoth works, each followed by a short world première. Mad Rush is a meditation in seven mercurial sections, and the mantra-like 600 Lines features radical and highly complex monodic structures. The newest version of Metamorphosis Two and the only transcription Philip Glass has ever done, as far as I am aware, (of Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence) complete our progamme.
Mad Rush was originally an organ piece composed in 1979 as Fourth Series, Part Four. Commissioned by \ Radio, the Holland Festival and the Festival de Saint-Denis, it was renamed when adapted by Lucinda Childs for her dance company. The piece was performed by the composer on several occasions, including the first public appearance of the fourteenth Dalai Lama in New York City in the autumn of 1981—when the work was reshaped into an “open form” to accompany the distinguished visitor’s entrance into the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
In its first recording (the accompaniment to Lucinda Childs’ choreography released in 2006 on Analog by Philip Glass—OMM0029), the music was presented in a post-modernistic, non-narrative and undramatic manner, thus giving the impression of a basic organisation that contrasts tranquil passages with fierce ones. But, in 1970s interviews, Philip Glass explained his way of organising musical structures by putting scores on the floor in order to fit specific shapes. Surprisingly, if we listen to the composer’s most recent versions, Mad Rush seems to have been enlightened by his long and rich concert experience. Philip Glass’ musical development through his live performances reveals four distinguishable sections, encompassing a tripartite architecture that almost sounds like a hidden sonata form.
It opens with a peaceful presentation of three sections. The first is an intimate prelude of broken thirds in a polyrhythm of two against three, creating a calm and peaceful atmosphere; next, a tempestuous ocean is rendered by relentless, fast, contrary motion arpeggios; as the sea calms down, a fusion of the two previous parts—the calm broken thirds in the bass and the double-time arpeggios in the upper register—gives the mesmerising impression of contemplating the glittering surface of the sea. Then sections one, two and three (followed by a fourth) are performed in a more tumultuous way. This quasi arch-form development could embody the sorrow and despair of people lost in the tumult of life. It dissolves into a serene but sad return of sections one and two. And, as the moon slowly vanishes on a lake surface, the fourth and last section appears like a coda in which a melancholic line floats over the final repetitions of the bass line and fades into oblivion.
Mad Rush is one of those keystone works that carries within it the seeds of Glass’ future achievements. The first part will be developed in the famous Opening From Glassworks, the second part in Koyaanisqatsi – Vessels, the third in the sixth movement of String Quartet No. 3 (Mishima), and the fourth in Metamorphosis Two.
Sometimes, the composer’s own concert performances (especially of certain canonical works) can bring about evolutionary changes that go beyond simply a new reading of the piece. Metamorphosis Two is one of these. In a previous volume (Glassworlds Vol. 3 Metamorphosis – GP691) we already provided details about this work. The new version (here in its world première recording) started to appear in concerts at the turn of the 21st century and, up to this day, has still not been published. The change is very subtle and only real Glass connoisseurs will be likely to notice it: a new harmonic progression has been added to a previously very static passage. In the same way as William Turner ingeniously added a bright red buoy in the middle of a largely colourless sea scene in Helvoetsluys—the City of Utrecht, 64, Going to Sea, this ingenious evolution casts the piece in a whole new light.
“What came to me as a revelation was the use of rhythm in developing an overall structure in music.” This Philip Glass statement is the best way to describe the trance-like 600 Lines, his most radical and fascinating piece, in which the reiteration of five pitches (C, D, E, F and G)—in constant mutations and organised with a high degree of complexity and refinement—gives a false impression of a cyclic structure. Composed in 1967, this obsessive and hypnotically restless toccata—of monumental dimensions—represents the zenith of Glass’ experience working with Ravi Shankar and his private lessons with Alla Rakha. It integrates harmony, melody and rhythm into a single musical expression that totally reinvents monody.
Curiously, there is not a single word about it in either of Philip Glass’ books (Music by Philip Glass and Words Without Music). It was composed for the Philip Glass Ensemble, but the musicians did not include the work on their pre-1970s programmes and never recorded it. Copyrighted in 1992, 600 Lines is not even part of Glass’ 1992 music catalogue (updated in 1995). It is only two decades later, when the composer commented on the first recording of the piece (made in 2013 by Alter Ego—Stradivarius STR 33649), that we find some clues as to the reason for this seeming neglect: “600 Lines was, in effect, [a] ‘practice’ piece. In fact, the highly extended scores that the musicians had to read from led to a new crisis for me. This new problem became the subject of new compositions and eventually led to the formulation of the ‘additive process,’ and the foundation of much of the music of the ten years that followed.”
600 Lines—here receiving its première recording on solo piano—attained such a high level of complexity that it became the last of its kind and was almost forgotten. What a tragic fate for such a major work.
It was on May 23, 2007, during the First Annual Gershwin Prize for Popular Song presented by the Library of Congress, that Philip Glass gave what appears to be the only performance to date of Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence. After a peaceful introduction, Glass intensifies the well-known theme using a technique from his 19th Etude (broken chords in a polyrhythm of two against three) The transcription ends in the same way it started, creating an arch form. The result is never loud or ostentatiously virtuosic, but a respectful homage.
The works on this programme demonstrate the composer’s perpetual goal of connecting with his audience. “Music is a social activity,” says Glass. “Music is an attraction that is very strong to me. Music doesn’t reveal anything to me. Music is a place, and when you listen to music, you go to that place. Music is a transaction; it passes between us.”
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