Friday, 11 May 2018

Philip Glass - Einstein On The Beach (1979)

The big breakthrough moment for mid-70s Philip Glass, composer, plumber and taxi driver, started when he agreed to collaborate with avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson.  Agreeing to work on a non-narrative portrait of Albert Einstein, Glass spent most of 1975 writing to a series of Wilson's storyboards.  Einstein On The Beach's four Acts, linked by five short 'Knee Plays', totaled around five hours in duration and premiered in France in July 1976.

Three years later, this first complete recording by Glass' Ensemble was released.  Most of the individual pieces had to be significantly shortened by necessity to fit on to four LPs, but you still get enough of a sense of what an epic work this is even at just two and a half hours.  All of Glass' experiments from the late 60s and early 70s into harmonic, repetitive and additive structures finds fruition here - the epic Music In Twelve Parts (admittedly only part-released in the 70s) now looks like a warmup for Einstein On The Beach.

As with that earlier work, the vocal text for Einstein was written as solfège (do-re-mi etc), intended, as were the chanted numbers, to be placeholder text, but ultimately kept in the finished opera, only enhancing its beautiful absurdity.  Texts on a variety of odd subjects, most of them seemingly random and cut-up non-sequiturs, were contributed by Christopher Knowles, Lucinda Childs and Samuel M Johnson.  On stage, Wilson's staging and choreography would fill in some of the gaps in understanding, but on record Einstein is still a hypnotic and joyous experience; no further explanation is needed.  And you'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the closing two minutes, as the 'Bus Driver' character from the opera's final Knee Play recites Johnson's 'Two Lovers On A Park Bench' monologue.

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4

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