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Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass & Robert Wilson (TOM 4 2901)

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From 4 LP Box set (TOM-4-2901)

2006 blindcyclOps


Philip Glass

Einstein on the Beach1979©GlassPages, 1997

Cover Picture

ReferencesCBS Masterworks M4K 38875 (1984, 4 CDs).Tomato Records TOM-4-2901 (1979, 4 LPs).Tomato Records TOM-101 (1978, Excerpts, 1 LP).

CreditsAn Opera in four acts for ensemble, chorusand soloists.Music & Lyrics: Philip Glass.Design & Direction: Robert Wilson.Philip Glass Ensemble:Jon Gibson:Soprano saxophone, flute.Philip Glass: Organ.Iris Hiskey: Voice.Richard Landry: Flute, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet.Kurt Munkacsi: Sound mix.Richard Peck: Alto saxophone, flute.Michael Riesman: Organ, synthesizer bass, additional keyboards.Conducted by Michael Riesman.Small Chorus:David Anchel: Bass.Sean Barker: Bass KNEE 4.Iris Hiskey: Soprano.Marc Jacobi: Tenor.Dora Ohrenstein: Alto.Phillip Gavin Smith: Tenor KNEE 4.Large Chorus:George Andoniadis.Connie Beckley.Ritty Ann Burchfield.Bruce Burroughs.Frank Conversano.Grethe Holby.Jeannie Hutchins.Marc Jacobi.Richard Morrison.Dana Reitz.Marie Rice.Ronald Roxbury.Forest Warren.David Woodberry.Michael Riesman: Choral conductor.Paul Zukofsky: Violin.Spoken text by:"Airconditioned supermarket": Lucinda Childs."Paris", "Two lovers": Samuel Johnson."These are the days", "Do you know", "I feelthe Earth move", "Mr. Bojangles": Christopher Knowles.Produced by Kurt Munkacsi and Philip Glass.Recording Engineers: Roddy Hui, Kurt Munkacsi, WieslawWoszczyk.Assistant Engineer: James Farber.Mixing Engineers: Kurt Munkacsi, Michael Riesman.Recorded & mixed at Big Apple Recording Studios, New York, N.Y.Mastered by Bill Kipper, Masterdisk, New York, N.Y.Published by Dunvagen Music Publishers, Inc. (ASCAP).© 1976 Philip Glass.

TracksCOMPACT DISC 1 (44:32).KNEE PLAY 1 (3:52).Chorus and electric organ.ACT 1.
SCENE 1 - TRAIN (17:20).Ensemble with solo voice and chorus joining at the end.SCENE II -TRIAL (23:20).Chorus, violin, electric orgsn & fultes.COMPACT DISC 2 (40:02).KNEE PLAY 2 (6:50).Violin solo.ACT II.
SCENE I - DANCE I ("Field with spaceship") (13:41).Ensemble with solo voice/dancers.SCENE II - NIGHT TRAIN (13:52).2 voices, chorus & small ensemble.KNEE PLAY 3 (5:39).COMPACT DISC 3 (42:11).ACT III.
SCENE I - TRIAL/PRISON (18:15).Chorus and electric organ, ensemble at the end.SCENE II - DANCE 2 ("Field with spaceship") (17:10).6 voices, violin, electric organ.KNEE PLAY 4 (6:46).Chorus and violin.COMPACT DISC 4 (38:12).ACT IV.
SCENE I - BUILDING (7:30).Chorus and ensemble.SCENE II - BED (11:49).Solo electric organ & voice.SCENE III - SPACESHIP (13:23).Chorus and ensemble.KNEE PLAY 5 (5:30).Woman's chorus, violin & electric organ.Total Time 2:44:57.

Audio samples KneePlay 1 (251Kb ).
KneePlay 4 (199Kb ).

Notes"I remember reading a letter of Mozart's", Philip Glass mused.He was sitting at the kitchen table in the corner of a friend's loft inlower Manhattan, taking a break from rehearsing his ensemble of electricorgans and woodwinds. He looked comfortable-craggy, engaging face, checkeredshirt, jeans, white socks and battered loafers-and the music, part of hisscore for "Einstein On The Beach", felt comfortable, even thoughfollowing its whirlwind of repetitions and pattern shifts required staminaand absolute attention from his musicians. The players-Dickie Landry, JonGibson, Richard Peck, Michael Riesman, Iris Hiskey, and Kurt Munkacsi-werescattered around the loft talking about new music, jazz, and what haveyou. And here was Glass, thinking out loud about the eighteenth century.
"In this letter", he continued, "Mozart commented thatin every coffee shop, people were singing arias from 'The Marriage of Figaro'.There was a time when there wasn't this tremendous distance between thepopular audience and concert music, and I think we're approaching thatstage again. For a long while we had this very small band of practitionersof modern music who described themselves as mathematicians, doing theoreticalwork that would someday be understood. I don't think anyone takes thatvery seriously anymore. There was a time, too, when Paganini, Liszt, Berliozmade their living playing. I would like to think that we're entering aperiod again when concert musicians, people who are concerned in a progressiveway with musical ideas, are involved with that".
If the interest of popular musicians is any indication, the era of theserious composer as performing musician and pop hero is already upon us.Ever since he performed at the Royal College of Art in London, in 1970,Glass has numbered David Bowie and Brian Eno among his fans. His kind ofmusic-it has been called solid state, minimalist, and trance music, imagesfrom the world of electronic circuitry, the visual arts, and non-Westernritual music that may help illuminate what he does but do not quite defineit-is a worldwide influence in progressive rock. You con hear some Glass,some Terry Riley,and some La Monte Youngin Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, and dozens of other rock bands. But astalk at the kitchen table veered from Mozart to rock, Glass insisted, "There'sone important distinction between pop musicians and concert musicians;I think it's the only important distinction".
He shifted in his chair, running a hand through his short but tangledhair. "When you talk about concert musicians, you're talking aboutpeople who actually invent language. They create values, a value beinga unit of meaning that is new and different. Pop musicians package language.I don't think there's anything wrong with packaging language; someof that can be very good music. I realized long ago that people were goingto make money off my ideas in a way that I'm not capable of or interestedin doing. It doesn't bother me; the two kinds of music are just different.One thing these English and German groups have done, though, they'vetaken the language of our music and made it much more accessible. It'sbeen helpful. If people had only heard Fleetwood Mac this music would soundlike music from outer space".
Ever since the Philip Glass-Robert Wilson opera "Einstein on theBeach" was given two sold-out performances at New York's MetropolitanOpera House, ever since a progressive rock label released Glass' albumNorth Star, ever since he gave a concertat Carnegie Hall and sold the place out, critics have been saying thathe is a "crossover" phenomenon (music business jargon for a minorityappeal artist who suddenly connects with a mass audience).
Glass insists that this is not quite true. "The record companiesare crossing over", he said, "the audience is crossing over,but I'm not. I began writing a certain way because I've always been interestedin the grammar of music, in the way it fits together. I'm a serious composer,but I'm working at a time when audiences no longer assume strong and exclusiveallegiances to one musical style. The significant thing isn't what's happeningto me, it's what's happening to audiences".
What's happening is an important shift in the way Western concert musicis composed, performed and appreciated. The roots of this shift can betraced back to John Cage, who turned the thoughts of American composersin an eastward direction and helped create an atmosphere in which anythingthat was possible might possibly be called music. But it began in earnestin the mid-sixties. Glass was studying with Allah Rakha, the Indian virtuosoof the tabla drums. Through this association he became involved with theIndian sitarist, Ravi Shankar, who hired him to help in the scoring ofa film. "My ideas wouldn't have developed the way they did if I hadn'tstarted in that place", Glass says."Also, I travelled in Morocco,where I had my first contact with non-Western music and was influencedby the geometric repetitions in Islamic art. Then in Asia I would stayin Himalayan villages for two or three weeks without seeing another Westerner.Later I became interested in South Indian music and in West African drumming".
By 1966 Glass was composing music in a nascent version of the stylethat flowers in "Einstein on the Beach". He didn't know it atthe time, but some other composers who were then living in California wereworking on similarly influenced music. LaMonte Young had developed earlier and was already well along on a personalpath, more involved with the perception of harmonic resonances than withthe repetition or rhythm. Nevertheless, he would emerge as something ofa father figure to the movement. TerryRiley, an early associate of Young's, had composed "In C",the first orchestral work in the new idiom, in 1964, and he attracted moreattention than any of the other young composers working in the field laterin the sixties, when Columbia Masterworks recorded both "In C"and his "A Rainbow in Curved Air".
In retrospect, it seems inevitable that some of the brightest youngminds in American music would have been profoundly affected by the culturalcurrents of the mid-sixties. After all, superficial influences from lndianmusic were already creeping into pop through the Beatle's experiments,and Cage and a number of artists working in other media had been sayingfor some time that so-called primitivism often proves highly sophisticatedwhile Western complexity often masks banality or simplemindedness. Butat the time, the development of a trance or minimalist or solid state schoolof American composers did not seem to be a foregone conclusion at all.In fact, it was unimaginable. Classical music changes at a glacial pacecompared to pop music and jazz, and in the mid-sixties its progressivewing fell rather neatly into two opposing camps. On the one hand, the serialistswere in the process of reducing every element in music -melody, harmony,rhythm, timbre, and so on-to a series of mathematical formulae. On theother hand, Cage and his followers and successors were championing indeterminacy,happenstance, improvisation. And never the twain did meet.
Glass could easily have ended up in one camp or the other. Certainlyhe started conventionally enough. He was a precocious student, beginninghis studies at the Peabody Conservatory in his native Baltimore when hewas eight and entering the University of Chicago at fifteen. Between 1957and 1961 he was a composition student at Juilliard, and after graduationhe received a grant from the Ford Foundation to be composer-in-residencewith the Pittsburgh public school system. His grant was renewed in 1963-64,and by this time he was writing pieces in the accepted academic serialistmanner that found ready publishers in America and Europe. In 1964 Glasswas awarded a Fulbright Grant for study in Paris with Boulanger.
But Allah Rakha, who taught Glass the additive principles of Indianrhythmic structure that he has drawn on in his subsequent compositions,and Ravi Shankar had more effect on the budding composer than Boulanger,and when he returned to New York in 1967 Glass began performing his newmusic of hypnotically repeating rhythmic modules and cool, spare textures.In the fall of 1968 he formed his first ensemble of amplified keyboardsand winds, with Jon Gibson and Dickie Landry. Unfortunately, the foundationsthat had helped him when he was composing conventional music were profoundlyuninterested in these new developments. The support he had enjoyed driedup, but he stuck to his guns, working days and rehearsing in lofts in downtownManhattan at night. The word that he was making a mesmerizing new musicspread, but it spread slowly. He formed his own record company, ChathamSquare Productions, in 1971, issuing two albums of his own music and severalothers by the members of his group, most of whom are accomplished and individualcomposers as well as performers. It wasn't until 1974 that a "real"record company, Virgin Records of England, developed an interest in hiswork. Eventually, Virgin released Parts One and Two of his "Musicin Twelve Parts" and an album of short pieces for a film aboutthe sculptor Mark di Suvero, "North Star".
Glass and his ensemble have toured Europe a dozen times since 1970;this goes a long way toward explaining his influence on European progressiverock. Recognition has not been as rapid in U. S. For a long time Glass'supporters were mainly allied with the visual arts, and it is easy enoughto find similarities between his music and, say, the painting of KennethNoland. But Glass' music is not at all difficult to listen to or to comprehend,quite the opposite in fact. "It's a music that has consciously reducedits means harmonically and melodically in favor of a structural clarity,"he says, "a music that tends to be fairly consistent in terms of meterand tempo". Its harmonies are simpler than the harmonies used by youraverage pop songwriter. The music does seem to repeat a few ideas for avery long time, but as Andrew Porter noted in a review of "EinsteinOn The Beach" that appeared in The New Yorker "Glass'score may be incantatory, but it is not lulling... A listener to his musicusually reaches a point, quite early on, of rebellion at the needle-stuck-in-the-groovequality, but a minute or two later he realizes that the needle has notstuck; something has happened. Once that point has passed, Glass' music-orso I find-becomes easy to listen to for hours on end. The mind may wandernow and again, but it wanders within a new sound world that the composerhas created".
With a few word changes, Porter's observation will serve as an introductionto the world of Robert Wilson, whose theatrical spectacles seem on thesurface to be as repetitious as Glass' music and which one ends up wanderingwithin rather than watching. Of course, it is Glass' music one hears onthese records, but "Einstein on the Beach" as experienced onthe stage is a true collaboration between Glass and the man Eugene lonescorecently called America's most important dramatist. Like Glass, Wilsondeveloped his methods during the middle and late sixties. Like Glass, Wilsonis concerned with apparent motionlessness and endless durations duringwhich dreams are dreamed and significant matters are understood. Like Glass,Wilson has found a group of dedicated performers to help him bring hisvision to life.
Robert Wilson's pre-theatrical background was in painting and architecture,and as The New York Times's John RockwelI has observed, "hisstage works are massive, hypnotic theatrical pictures". The firstof Wilson's major pieces, "The King of Spain", began its lifein 1969 at New York's Anderson Theatre. It was absorbed into a longer work,"The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud," and Wilson went on toexplore extremely long durations. "The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin,"which was presented at the Brooklyn Academyof Music in 1974, ran for twelve hours, and "Ka Mountain and GuardeniaTerrace; a Story about Some People Changing" ran continuously forseven days and nights at the 1972 Shiraz festival in Iran.
Wilson's other works have included "A Letter to Queen Victoria","The $ Value of Man", and the celebrated "Deafman's Glance",but his examinations of seminal twentieth century figures-Freud, Stalin,and Einstein-have seemed to cluster in a class by themselves. Actually,they are not examinations in any conventional sense; they are not historicalnor even particularly analytical. "Wilson's Einstein", wroteJack Kroll in Newsweek, "is, like his Freud and Stalin, notso much a historical figure as a resonator, a magnetic catalyst creatinga new gravitational field in human experience". Another way of lookingat Wilson's operas is as meditations, with their central figures servingas mantras. However one conceives them, the event is only partly on stage.Part of it, perhaps the most significant part, is triggered by Wilson'simages but takes place in the viewer's mind.
"Einstein on the Beach" is the tightest and most visuallystriking of Wilson's operas. (It may strike some readers that calling themoperas is stretching the point, but this is what Wilson calls them, andtechnically, "opera" simply means "work".) It revolvesaround three recurring visual images, each of which has its correspondingmusic. There are trains, recalling the toy trains Einstein played withas a child and the trains he later used as analogies to illustrate histheory of relativity. A trial scene that includes a bed seems to resonatewith the awesome implications of Einstein's discoveries. Did he ponder,while in bed at night, the threat of atomic catastrophe that his work hadhelped unleash? Might he have imagined himself, or modern science, on trial?The third image, representing, perhaps, the potential for liberation andtranscendence that Einstein also unleashed, is a spaceship. But all theimages are really more complex than these descriptions indicate, as dreamstend to be. The trial bogs down in the banalities muttered by an old judge,and the spaceship is linked in some way to the nuclear apocalypse suggestedby the opera's title-a reference to Nevil Shute's novel of nuclear holocaust,On The Beach. And then there is a fourth image, Einstein himself.The real Einstein often played the violin for relaxation, and in Wilson'sopera he is seen periodically, standing apart from the action, observingit while fiddling like a thoughtful, tousle-headed Nero.
"Einstein", wrote Andrew Porter, "is precisely organized,tautly patterned, economical in its forces, and austere in its decor".The organization, the patterning, the decor, along with the images themselves,make up the content of Wilson's work, serving the functions that plot,characterization and narrative exposition serve in more conventional operas.This non-didactic approach means that Wilson's staging, direction and designand Glass' music can fuse into a single experience, an experience in whichstructure and substance ore one and the same and the "picture"is completed by the listener/ viewer.
Glass indicates in his notes to "Einstein on the Beach", reprintedelsewhere in this booklet, that the music grew out of a series of workscalled "Another Look At Harmony" which he began composing in1975. "In my earlier work," he explained one afternoon shortlybefore his first Carnegie Hall concert, "I took rhythmic structureand made it more or less the subject of the work. In 'Musicin 12 Parts', for example, each part is almost a catalogue of rhythmictechniques that create overall structure. But in 'Another Look at Harmony',I tried to find a way of linking rhythmic structure with harmonic structuresand rhythmic 'interest'." In other words, the music is still "about"its own structure, but the language is richer than in Glass' earlier work.Using relatively austere means, the composer has created a music of remarkablecolor and depth.
The New York Times's John Rockwell hears in this music a "mixtureof mathematical clarity and mystical allure", and this mixture isthe source of its great fascination and power. Any music that ignores theprinciples of order and simply expresses raw emotions must seem inadequatefor this scientific age, and yet the contemplation of the transcendentprobably plays a greater part in our lives than at any time since the dawnof the age of rationalism. So one listens to the music, just as one watchesWilson's shifting tableaux, and somehow, without quite knowing it, onecrosses the line from being puzzled or irritated to being absolutely bewitched.The experience is inexplicable but utterly satisfying, and one could notask for anything more than that.
-Robert Palmer


PART 1The music for "Einstein on the Beach" was written in the spring,summer and fall of 1975. Bob Wilson and I worked directly from a seriesof his drawings which eventually formed the designs for the sets. Priorto that period, we had reached agreement on the general thematic content,the overall length, its divisions into 4 acts, 9 scenes and 5 connecting"knee plays". We also determined the makeup of the company-4principal actors, 12 singers, doubling when possible as dancers and actors,a solo violinist, and the amplified ensemble of keyboards, winds and voiceswith which my music is usually associated.
The three main recurring visual themes of the opera (Train/Trial/Fieldwith Spaceship) are linked to three main musical themes. The overall thematicdivisions of the opera are as follows:
KNEE PLAY 1 (Chorus and electric organ)
Act I Scene 1 TRAIN
(ensemble with solo voice and chorus joining at the end)
(chorus, violin, electric organ and flutes)
KNEE PLAY 2 (Violin solo)
Act II Scene 1 DANCE 1-Fieldwith Spaceship
(ensemble with solo voice/dancers)
(2 voices, chorus and small ensemble)
KNEE PLAY 3 (Chorus a capella)
(chorus and electric organ, ensemble at the end)
Scene2 DANCE 2-Field with Spaceship
(6 voices, violin, electric organ)
KNEE PLAY 4 (Chorus and violin)
(chorus and ensemble)
Scene2 BED
(solo electric organ and voice)
(chorus and ensemble)
KNEE PLAY 5 (Women's chorus, violin and electricorgan)
The most important musical material appears in the knee plays and featuresthe violin. Dramatically speaking, the violinist (dressed as Einstein,as are the performers on stage) appears as a soloist as well as a characterin the opera. His playing position-midway between the orchestra and thestage performers-offers a clue to his role. He is seen then, perhaps asEinstein himself, or simply as a witness to the stage events; but, in anycase, as a musical touchstone to the work as a whole.
It might be useful to delineate some of the visual/musical transformationof the material which makes up the opera:
The image of the train appears three times-first in Act I, Scene 1,then in Act II, Scene 2 (as the Night Train), and finally in Act IV, Scene1, where it appears in the same perspective as the Night Train, but thistime transformed into a building. The music for the first train is in threeparts, or "themes". The first theme (based on the super-impositionof two shifting rhythmic patterns, one changing and one fixed) makes upmost of the music of this scene.
The second appearance of the train image, the Night Train, is a reworkingof the first theme, this time with a larger complement of voices. The musicfor the Building is a development of the second theme, recognizable byits highly accented rhythmic profile, in which the repeated figures formsimple arithmetic progressions.
The third theme is a rhythmic expansion of a traditional cadential formula.This "cadence" theme forms the principal material of the opera,being used for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Knee Plays, as well as almost the entiremusic for Act IV Scene 3, the Spaceship.
The second major visual image, the Trial, also appears three times inthe opera-first in Act I, Scene 2, then in Act Ill, Scene I where, afterthe first few minutes, the stage divides, becoming half-trial/half-prison,and finally in Act IV, Scene 2, where the bed which has been in the centerof the trial, and in half of the trial/prison, now occupies the entirestage. Here again the trial music is in three parts, or "themes".After the opening of the first trial we hear the violin, accompanied bymen's voices, playing a simple, harmonically stable rhythmic pattern which,through an additive process, slowly expands and contracts.
Later, the women's voices join in, producing a somewhat thicker texture.Toward the end of this scene, during the judge's speech, the second themeis heard, more chordal in nature, for solo electric organ.
The Trial/Prison begins musically in the same way as the first Trial.After the stage divides, the third theme is heard-numbers sung by the menand women in the jury box and lightly accompanied by harmonically shiftingarpeggios on electric organ. Toward the end of the scene, the witness remainingalone on the stage speaks and, as the scenery is removed, the second (chordal)theme appears-this time in soprano saxophone and bass clarinet.
The Bed scene begins with a cadenza for electric organ. As the bed liftsto a vertical position and flies upwards, we hear the first theme again.Then, for the last time, the second (chordal) theme is heard, now accompaniedby a solo singing voice.
Act I, Scene 2 Act III, Scene 1 ActIV, Scene 2
Theme 1 1 1
Theme 3
Theme 2 2 2
The first two appearances of the Field image are given over to danceand can be heard as similar reflections of the same musical material. Forme they are two pillars equidistant from either end of the opera, sharingonly superficial features with the musical content of the other scenes.During the first dance in Act II, Scene 1, a spaceship is seen in the distance.In the second dance, Act Ill, Scene 2, the spaceship appears closer. Thethird appearance of the Field, Act IV, Scene 3 takes place inside the spaceshipand, as indicated earlier, the music comes from the third theme of thetrain music.
The Knee Plays are the short connecting pieces which appear throughoutthe work much as prelude, interludes and postlude. Taken together, theyform a play in themselves. They can also be seen as the seeds which flowerand take form in the larger scenes. In the first four Knee Plays, two charactersare seen in a room, sitting at two tables, then sitting side-by-side intwo chairs, next standing together in front of a large control board andthen lying on top of two large glass tables. In the final knee play, thelast moment of the opera, they are seen sitting on a bench waiting fora bus.
The 2nd, 3rd and 4th Knee Plays share the same form-first theme, secondtheme and return to first theme. The "cadence" theme of the firsttrain (Act I, Scene 1) makes up the first theme in all of these Knee Plays,either expressed as violin arpeggios, in a chorale setting for voices,or, in the 4th Knee Play, as a combination of the two. The middle themeof the 2nd Knee Play, based on simple scale passages, reappears duringthe second dance and in the middle section of the Spaceship music. Themiddle themes of the 3rd Knee Play and the 4th Knee Play are differentarrangements of the same material, easily recognizable by its highly lyricalcharacter.
The root movement (implied bass line) of this material is A-G-C. Thisbecomes, in the pedal of an electric organ, the opening descending bassline of the 1st knee play.
After a very extended beginning, during which the audience enters, thefirst vocal setting of these harmonies appears. The descending bass linereappears for the 5th Knee Play, joined shortly thereafter by women's voicessinging the vocal music of the 1st Knee Play, and then by the violin, playingthe middle theme of the 4th Knee Play.
The vocal texts used throughout the opera are based on numbers and solfege("do, re, mi . . .") syllables. When numbers are used, they representthe rhythmic structure of the music. When solfege is used, the syllablesrepresent the pitch structure of the music. In either case, the text isnot secondary or supplementary, but is a description of the music itself.
To conclude this part of the notes, one might say that, in a generalway, the opera begins with a 19th Century train and ends with a 20th Centuryspaceship. Events occur en route-trials, prison, dances-and throughout,the continuity of the Knee Plays. A number of principal characters appearand reappear in different combinations, often carrying with them an identifyinggesture. The violinist, one of the Einsteins of the opera, remains (evenduring the final scene, the Spaceship, when the entire company is on stage)seated apart, a witness.

PART 2"Einstein on the Beach" is part of an ongoing musical projectbegun with "Another Look at Harmony" in the spring of 1975. This,in turn, is based on "Music in 12 Parts"(completed 1974) which developed a vocabulary of techniques (additive processes,cyclic structure and combinations of the two) to apply to problems of rhythmicstructure. "Another Look at Harmony" turns to problems of harmonicstructure or, more accurately, structural harmony-new solutions to problemsof harmonic usage, where the evolution of material can become the basisof an overall formal structure intrinsic to the music itself (and withoutthe harmonic language giving up its moment-to-moment content and "flavor").
My main approach throughout has been to link harmonic structure directlyto rhythmic structure, using the latter as a base. In doing so, easilyperceptible "root movement" (chords or "changes") waschosen in order that the clarity of this relationship could be easily heard.Melodic material is for the most part a function, or result, of the harmony,as is true in earlier periods of Western music. However, it is clear thatsome of the priorities of Western music (harmony/melody first, then rhythm)have been reversed. Here we have rhythmic structure first, then harmony/melody.The result has been a reintegration of rhythm, harmony and melody intoan idiom which is, hopefully, accessible to a general public, although,admittedly, somewhat unusual at first hearing.
Parts 1 and 2 of "Another look at Harmony" become the basisof Act I, Scene 1, (Train) and Act II, Scene 1 (Field) of the opera andwere the starting points from which additional material and devices weredeveloped.
The musical material of the opera is made up of series of 5 chords,4 chords, 3 chords, 2 chords and 1 chord. Following is a brief descriptionof each series and the techniques relevant to its use.
The most prominent "theme" of the opera is made from the followingprogression of 5 chords:
key of f
(i) (VI) (IVb)
(IV) (V) (I)
key of E
This combines both a familiar cadence and a modulation in one formula.What makes the formula distinctive and even useful is, of course, the wayin which the IVb (Bbb) becomes IV (A) of the newkey, thereby making the phrase resolve a half step lower. This, in turn,provides the leading tone for the original i (f). As it is a formula whichinvites repetition, it is particularly suited to my kind of musical thinking.It can be heard in the opera as the third theme of the Train music (ActI, Scene 1), with ensemble and chorus, then in arpeggio form as a violinsolo in Knee Play 2, next in chorale form for chorus a capella in KneePlay 3, then in both arpeggio form and chorale form in Knee Play 4, andfinally combining all the previous arrangements in the Spaceship (Act IVScene 3).
The progression of 4 chords appears at the end of the Trial (Act I,Scene 2), Trial/Prison (Act III, Scene 1) and Bed (Act IV, Scene 2). Itis a rhythmic expansion of the 4 chords:
As indicated, the f and C harmonies are "paired" rhythmically,as are the Eb and D harmonies. Beginning with a simple patternof eighth notes,
(f) (Eb) (C) (D)
the phrase gradually expands, each new phrase being played twice, untilquite a long and elaborate final figure is produced. An example of therhythmic/harmonic expansion in its early stage is as follows:
(f) (Eb) (C) (D)
(1) 4 3 4 3
(2)(4+3) 4 (4+3) 4
(3)(4+3) (4+3) (4+3) (4+3)
(4)(4+3+2) (4+3) (4+3+2) (4+3)
The material involving the series of 3 chords makes up the music ofthe two dance sections (Act II, Scene 1 and Act Ill, Scene 2). The procedurehere is quite different, setting three key centers (A, e7 andBb) "around" a central key of d. At the beginning,each of the key centers is associated with its own meter and all are playedover a common rhythmic pattern of 6/8. (This, incidentally, creates a secondarypolymetric "flavor" throughout the music.) The key of A appearsin dotted quarters, e7 in eighth notes (a substitute key ofC7 appears later) and Bb in half notes. After anexcursion into one of these key centers the music returns, always, to thecentral key of d. As the music develops, the key centers begin to exchangemetrical character. Later, these form complex accumulations of meters inthe same key before returning to the central key, d. This accumulativeprocess continues until the original key/meter associations are lost inan overall texture of harmonies and meters.
The sequence of two chords is found in the Trail/Prison music. The twoharmonies, a7 and g7 , are first heard as two alternatingarpeggiated figures in 6/8 (played on electric organ with voices chantingnumbers representing the rhythmic patterns). The music develops as each"half" of the figure undergoes a process of rhythmic fragmentation(wherein small increments of the original figure are added to itself).At first the process occurs equally in both halves (represented by thetwo harmonies) of the figure, thereby maintaining an exact overall symmetry.Gradually, the two halves begin to differ rhythmically, reaching a pointwhere they are completely different and the figure is asymmetrical. Atthis point two successive asymmetrical figures in the music begin to actas mirror images of each other, thereby seeming to form one doubly-longsymmetrical pattern.
The music based on one chord is first heard in the Trial (Act I, Scene2). The violin, playing a figure in 7/8, outlines an a7 harmony.A simple additive process begins as each successive figure adds a singleeight note, thereby changing its overall rhythmic character and causingthe figure to gradually expand. The figure later contracts when the processis reversed, returning finally to its original form. The same process isheard later at the beginning of the Trial/Prison (Act III, Scene 1) andfinally in the Bed (Act IV, Scene 2).
Copyright © 1976 Philip Glass

GlassPages ReviewThere has been very, very much written about "Einstein on the Beach" since itsworld-premiere (1976 in Avignon, France). It is surely not one of the mostradical works of Philip Glass, but surely one of his best-known, and it is thework, that made him and Robert Wilson, who was responsible for the whole non-musical part of this "opera", famous in the whole world of arts. But thisintroduction addresses itself especially to those people, who had no or only afew contacts with the music by Philip Glass.Of course, "Einstein on the Beach" is no opera in the common sense. It is truethat there are singers and dancers, performing on the stage, and that there isalso an "orchestra" (the Philip Glass Ensemble). But the work has no narrativeaction, it consists only of "living pictures", which however have no relationto the real life of Albert Einstein. But nothing more shall be said here aboutwhat happens on the stage; finally it is a question of listening to one of thetwo recordings (CBS/Sony and Nonesuch).
Philip Glass is a master in creating very much from very few musical material.That is shown especially in "Einstein on the Beach". The principle of addition
and subtraction of notes of musical "patterns" (a keyword for every so-called"minimal music") is used here very frequently. Basically the whole opera,which after all has a live-duration of about five hours, consists of only afew themes or patterns, which appear again and again. There are only littlechanges of these patterns, e.g. the length, the instrumentation or thecomplexity.At the beginning, at the end and between every of the four acts, there is aso-called "knee-play", which functions as a connection. Right at the beginningit becomes clear that it is not an opera in the normal sense: There is a slowbass-line with only three notes, played by the electronic organ, and thesinging starts with repetitions of numbers "one, two, three, four, one, two,three, four...". The instrumentation of each scene is changing through thewhole spectrum: From solo-violin (Einstein himself used to play violinsometimes), choir a-capella, solo-singing with organ, up to the whole PhilipGlass Ensemble with Choir. Together with this, sometimes there are spokenwords, which sense does not open up before the listener during the first time(and perhaps they stay obscure)."Einstein on the Beach" will be a very special hearing-event for everyone, whogets involved in it, also without the impression of the stage-performance.

© Mathias Sträßer
May, 1998

LinksMusical themes of Einsteinon the Beach pages by Nicolas Sceaux (in English and French).Einstein onthe Beach pages by Jeff Smith.Albert Einstein Online.

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