Friday, May 01, 2009

There's Nothing New Under the Sun

I've been exploring so much new music recently, (made possible in part by Eric's Academy Music recommendation: that place has an unbelievable hoard of dirt cheap used classical music) that I'm stumbling across all kinds of interesting things, and wanted to share one highly unexpected parallel.

I know next to nothing about the actual musical history involved, but I've been noticing that some baroque music sounds amazingly like 20th century minimalist music. Or to be more precise: sometimes Handel creates a nice effect by suddenly having his violins go into a very repetitious phrase for one section of a song...and Phillip Glass stole that one trick and made an entire career out of it.

Compare this selection from Einstein on the Beach:

with this from the Messiah:

1 comment:

drischord said...

I have been trying to make the time, ever since you posted this last week, to write a long diatribe ripping into Philip Glass, who may very well be the most overrated artist in any musical genre.

The sad thing is that Einstein on the Beach is his flagship work-- and, by default, his best-- and while it certainly made an impact, it just set the stage for a career built on mediocrity and limited musicianship.

I emphasize that I'm not claiming that Glass is a bad musician per se. (However, I have seen him perform live, and all agreed he was truly awful.) But can anyone else name a musician of such average talents hailed with terms like "visionary" and "genius" the way that Glass has been?

The music intelligentsia fell in love with the wrong guy. If you're going for pure "minimalism" (a term that every so-called "minimalist" has disowned), Glass is a shell compared to Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Gavin Bryars, Louis Andreissen, the list goes on...

True geniuses are composers like John Adams, who takes elements of minimalism as a jumping-off point, but then builds entire ornate structures that distend in all directions and cull many more composition techniques than just plain repetition. Glass, by comparison, is chasing his tail.

Philip Glass has been stuck in a rut ever since Einstein on the Beach premiered. He is completely limited as a composer, as evidenced by his film scores, where he's incapable of adapting his work to meet the visual material halfway.

And then stack him up against Handel, as Quinapalus has done, and you see this hack for what he is. Handel was a true master; he was Beethoven's favorite composer. (Besides himself, of course.) Glass, on the other hand, has been boosted by the Pitchfork Medias of classical music-- critics more concerned with statement and edginess than actual musicianship.

I can only repeat what Quinapalus has already said: A technique that amounted to a mere sneeze in Handel's canon (and it lasted beyond his era; even Haydn and Mozart did some of this) has been the basis for Glass's entire hackneyed, prosaic, media-sensationalized career.

I feel much better now.