Words Without Music: A Memoir by Philip Glass - review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Minimal Efforts

Words Without Music: A Memoir


Faber & Faber 416pp £22.50 order from our bookshop

It wasn’t Philip Glass’s first time in Europe, but it was his first European tour. In fact, he was really just tagging along. The sculptor Richard Serra had a show at the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam and Glass, who was then Serra’s assistant, thought he’d make something of the trip. It was 1969.

Glass got his ensemble together and put on a spread of new works by various composers in a style that would soon be called minimalism. It didn’t go down well. The audience began by booing and ended up invading the stage. During Glass’s own piece, a man leapt onto his piano and started bashing at the keys. ‘Without thinking … I belted him across the jaw,’ writes Glass.

This kind of ‘crap’ – including universally dire reviews and a general snottiness from the whole music establishment – continued for a good decade. In fact, the dire reviews never really stopped. And he was seventy-two before any university offered him academic work. In most of those early concerts –

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