(1937-)

Synopsis

Musician Philip Glass, born on January 31, 1937, in Baltimore, went on to study with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar, later forming the Philip Glass Ensemble. He received accolades for his debut opera, Einstein on the Beach, and eventually earned Oscar nominations for scoring the films Kundun, The Hours and Notes on a Scandal. Known for his distinctive contemporary minimalism, Glass has worked with artists from a variety of disciplines.  

Background and Education

Philip Glass was born on January 31, 1937, in Baltimore. He took up the violin and flute and began performing before reaching his teens. Glass took classes at the Peabody Institute’s conservatory and later studied at the University of Chicago and The Juilliard School.

Studies With Ravi Shankar

Glass eventually decided to travel to Europe, studying under conductor Nadia Boulanger and sitar musician Ravi Shankar, whom Glass cited as a major influence on his craft. 

Glass adopted an approach to musical composition that relied on repetitive, sometimes subtly nuanced musical structures that would be seen as a cornerstone of contemporary minimalism. (The composer later saw the term “minimalism” as an outdated way of describing his work and the varying sounds of up-and-coming artists.) He formed the electric Philip Glass Ensemble in 1967, an avant-garde group that would continue to earn buzz over the years, if not universal acclaim.

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Acclaim for ‘Einstein’

Playwright Robert Wilson worked with the composer to bring Glass’ first opera, Einstein on the Beach, to the stage in 1976. Based on the life of the famed physicist and relying upon an unorthodox, repeating sonic framework, Einstein earned major acclaim. Many more operas were to come from Glass, including 1980’s Satyagraha, which followed a portion of the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

The prolific Glass has composed several symphonies and concertos as well, performing his work internationally as part of his ensemble and having works staged in venues like the London Coliseum, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. His albums include Glassworks (1982), Songs From Liquid Days (1986)—with contributions from David Byrne, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt and the Kronos Quartet—and Hydrogen Jukebox (1993), among many others. Glass has received an array of honors and has worked with visionaries from various art forms, including singer-songwriter Patti Smith, dancer-choreographer Twyla Tharp and writer Doris Lessing.

Array of Film Scores

Glass has provided scores for a litany of movies that include the acclaimed Koyaanisqatsi (1982), a project directed by Godfrey Reggio that uses visuals and music to create a story about humanity’s relationship with nature. Other big-screen scores from Glass have included Hamburger Hill (1987), Candyman (1992), The Truman Show (1998), Secret Window (2002), The Illusionist (2006), Leviathan (2014) and Fantastic Four (2015), as well as documentaries like Pandemic: Facing AIDS (2002) and A Sea Change (2009). Glass received Academy Award nominations for the musical scores of Kundun (1997), The Hours (2002) and Notes on a Scandal (2006).

In September 2016, President Barack Obama presented Glass with a National Medal of Arts. At the ceremony, President Obama said Glass was being honored “for his groundbreaking contributions to music and composition,” and described him as “one of the most prolific, inventive, and influential artists of our time, he has expanded musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores, and wide-ranging collaborations.” 

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QUICK FACTS

  • Name: Philip Glass
  • Birth Year: 1937
  • Birth date: January 31, 1937
  • Birth State: Maryland
  • Birth City: Baltimore
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Philip Glass is an Oscar-nominated avant-garde composer whose notable works include ‘Einstein on the Beach,’ ‘The Hours’ and ‘Notes on a Scandal.’
  • Industries
    • Classical
    • Music
  • Astrological Sign: Aquarius
  • Schools
    • University of Chicago
    • The Juilliard School
  • Occupations
    • Pianist
    • Composer

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CITATION INFORMATION

  • Article Title: Philip Glass Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/musicians/philip-glass
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: August 14, 2019
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014

QUOTES

  • What I’ve noticed is that people who love what they do, regardless of what that might be, tend to live longer.
  • I’ve always just worked hard. I didn’t make a living until I was in my 40s – I did construction work, moved furniture, anything. Nobody makes you choose the life of an artist. We do it on our own, and we take our chances.
  • I had great teachers. Boulanger was one. Another was Ravi Shankar. And I went through the Juilliard process, and that was good, too. But I really learned from writing, which is how painters learn to paint, and writers learn to write, and how even dancers learn to dance.
  • When I was a kid, people threw things at me, or shouted and screamed, to disrupt my concerts. But I’ve always gone ahead and done what I wanted to do without paying much attention to anybody.
  • In the 1970s, a paper ran the headline ‘Glass invents new sonic torture.’ I saved that one – I thought it was very funny.
  • This is what people used to call the needle-stuck-in-the-groove music. Events happen in the music but rather more slowly than you’re used to. So it was like taking a microscope and looking at something very close up and you’ll see things that you never would have seen before.
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