Tag Archives: Glass

Music of the spheres

It was Pythagoras who first proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit a unique resonance based on their orbital revolution, a theory that became known as the “Harmony of the Spheres”. In his Republic, Plato also alluded to the connection between music and astronomy: “As the eyes, said I, seem formed for studying astronomy, so do the ears seem formed for harmonious motions: and these seem to be twin sciences to one another, as also the Pythagoreans say”.

Fascinated and inspired by this idea of ‘spherical music’ (or musica universalis), British violinist Daniel Hope set out to record Spheres, which was released last February by Deutsche Grammophon. As Hope puts it: “My aim was to make an album touching on this sublime theme, while also discovering what composers nowadays might write when thinking in this context.” The final result is remarkable not only for its original concept, but also for its incorporation and imaginative combination of many diverse, yet equally intriguing, compositions.

For the purposes of this special recording, old and new composers were drawn together and some of the works appearing on the album were given their world premiere or special new arrangements. Spheres features music from a wide range of styles and composers including J.S. Bach, Gabriel Fauré, Ludovico Einaudi, Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and Max Richter (who also collaborated with Hope on his interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons).

Beautiful, mysterious and captivating, the music of Spheres can be seen as an ideal companion to the visual artistry of abstract filmmakers like Jordan Belson (1926-2011), who had also made a film named Music of the Spheres in 1977 (you can watch a clip here).

Images from Music of the Spheres artwork, 1977, (c) Estate of Jordan Belson

For those who find classical music passé or contemporary composers too difficult, listening to Spheres is certainly bound to make them reconsider.

Philip Glass and Schubert’s glasses

Born on January 31 (the same day as Franz Schubert), Philip Glass is regarded as one of the most influential composers to emerge during the twentieth century. Although he evolved stylistically in his later works, the American composer has been mostly associated with minimal music, a style that has its origins in the underground scene and alternative spaces of San Francisco and New York of the early 1960s.

My first encounter with Glass’s music was back in the 1990s, through a compilation CD that contained key works by contemporary composers. The piece was the 1st movement of his Violin Concerto No.1, which still ranks among my favorite pieces of modern music – or any music for that matter, as I consider it a masterpiece by any standards.

Many years later, I had the chance to see Philip Glass performing with his ensemble at the Muziektheater in Amsterdam. It was one of the lengthiest and most demanding music performances I have ever attended: a total duration of 5 hours over which Glass’s large-scale work Music in Twelve Parts was executed in its entirety (a rare event).

It is true that the repetitive structure and recurring musical elements in Glass’s works and minimal music in general can be somewhat off-putting without the listener’s engagement and active participation. On the other hand, I find this style of music relatively easy to follow (at least when compared with most of atonal music) and highly rewarding for a set of persistent and appreciative ears. Glass, after all, describes himself as a “classicist”. He was trained in harmony as well as counterpoint and, under the guidance of French composer and conductor Nadia Boulanger, he has studied the compositions of J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart and, well, Franz Schubert…

Schubert - Glass.png

Interestingly, the relationship between the latter and Philip Glass extends far beyond a shared birthday. Glass’s fondness for Schubert’s music can be traced throughout his oeuvre, most notably in his writing for piano. According to Dutch pianist and composer Jeroen Van Veen, an example of this can be found in Glass’s Mad Rush, which alludes to the opening piano part of Schubert’s beautiful Lied Du bist die Ruh.

Glass’s appreciation and respect for the Viennese master with the iconic glasses of steel frame and spherical lenses appears, then, to be well-grounded. In all likelihood, Schubert too would approve of Glass’s creative approach in using relatively simple forms to produce works of high dynamics and powerful emotion. Not to mention his soft spot for round glasses. It’s all in the name, it seems…