Between reading John Adams’ autobiography and seeing Einstein on the Beach on stage, I wanted to re-read Philip Glass’ autobiography, Music by Philip Glass, which I’d first checked out of the library back in high school. That would have been some time in late ’80s, only a scant few years after Glass had premiered his third opera, Akhenaten.
There was just one problem — it’s been out of print since the mid-90s. But a stop by Powell’s City of Books in Portland on my way from Austin to Seattle fixed that problem right quick.
Music by Philip Glass focuses on the period of the composer’s life when he created his first three operas: Einstein on the Beach, Satyragraha and Akhenaten. They’re labeled a “trilogy”, but I don’t get the sense from Glass that he set out to write these operas in the same way George Lucas set out to create the Star Wars universe.
Einstein on the Beach was enough of a success that it allowed Glass to scratch an itch to make additional works about history-changing figures. Marketing forces certainly helped along in billing these works as part of a greater whole.
The book also includes the complete libretti of these works, filling it out to make up for Glass’ mostly straight-forward remembrances. Glass ruminates a bit of his creative process but not in the depth Adams did in his book, Hallelujah Junction. It’s not quite a fair comparison since Adams wrote his book at a point much later in his career than Glass did his.
Which pretty much means that Music by Philip Glass is good candidate for a major update. It’s been 25 years since the book’s publication, and Glass has far larger body of work to cover — additional operas, film scores and a number of symphonies.
Still, it’s a nice insider’s look on the amount of work that goes into staging large-scale works such as operas. Despite the critical success of Einstein on the Beach, the touring production left Glass and directory Robert Wilson in debt to the tune of $190,000. It took years for the Wilson’s production company to pay it off, and Glass still drove a taxi cab and worked as a plumber afterward.
Glass also describes how he never composes in the afternoon. He establishes a routine for himself so that creative ideas don’t occur to him when he’s dealing with the business end of arts programming He also writes about the years preceding the trilogy, including his tutelage under Nadia Boulanger and work with Ravi Shankar.
All that’s missing now are the two decades following the trilogy. A sequel is definitely in order.