Philip Glass


Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

By the time Philip Glass had finished two of his three quasi-biographical operas -- Einstein on the Beach (1976), and Satyagraha (1980) -- he had become one of the most prominent fixtures in the musical world. His success was such that by the early '80s he had achieved a rare feat for a composer of "serious" music: signing an exclusive contract with the CBS Masterworks label. Still, his operas had been large and economically unwieldy, and Glass anticipated resistance toward the funding of his more expensive projects; so he devised a strategy wherein he would preemptively offset the financial obstacles of operatic recordings by intermittently releasing less expensive, more accessible, and marketable recordings. The first such project of this nature was the instrumental collection entitled Glassworks, which appeared on shelves in 1982. Featuring the Philip Glass Ensemble (which on this album includes piano, keyboards, organ, a handful of woodwinds, horns, and a few violas and cellos), Glassworks comprised six tracks ("Opening," Floe," "Islands," Rubric," Facades," and "Closing") with an amiably soft-edged minimalist sound, in an almost new-agey vein.

Critics often point to the success of Glassworks -- within five years nearly 200,000 copies had been sold -- as representative of Glass' "selling out"; others see it as simple business savvy (as scholar Keith Potter points out, Glass' North Star project from 1977 had similar commercial aspirations, but hadn't sold as well). Though Glassworks is rather lightweight, its gestures are familiar and Glass' characteristic rhythmic/melodic tricks do offer a certain amount of substance. It also exhibits a consistency and casual sophistication that seems quite strained in his next overtly commercial venture, Songs from Liquid Days. While Glassworks doesn't offer the challenges and poignancy of Glass' more serious works, at the very least it is easy on the ear.