MUSIC BY PHILIP GLASS by Philip Glass; edited and with supplementary material by Robert T. Jones (Harper & Row: $22.95; 216 pp., illustrated).
Philip Glass, one of the most famous and popular composers of our time, quite correctly observes that music does not exist in a vacuum and, like all of the arts, must be evaluated in terms of the aesthetics, philosophy and social context of its time. According to Glass, his music is informed by traditional classical and Indian music, as well as the experimental, non-narrative theater tradition which begins with Brecht and Beckett and includes such modern visionaries as the Mabou Mines theater group (of which Glass was a founding member and music director), the Living Theater, and, of course, Robert Wilson, with whom he collaborated on "Einstein on the Beach." Glass has also been friends, and often collaborator, with the likes of Sol Le Witt, Richard Serra, Lucinda Childs, Laurie Anderson, Constance De Jong; among the most important artists, choreographers, performance artists, and writers of the post-modern era.
The prosaic style employed by Glass in describing his work, his musical aesthetic and its development is conversational, quite readable, yet he clearly elucidates the complex aesthetic to which he, and his peers, subscribe.
The title is rather misleading, as the book very briefly surveys Glass' works through 1975 and focuses almost exclusively on the history, production, and analysis of Glass' trilogy of so-called portrait operas, "Einstein on the Beach," "Satyagraha" and "Ahknaten." His accounts of the process behind mounting modern operatic productions are interesting and revealing. Included are the complete librettos, and musical analyses.
This fascinating book may help silence Glass' detractors and the nay-sayers who have disparaged his music for being superficial and devoid of intellectual content.