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Nowadays, ‘minimalism’ is a term that’s frequently bandied about when it comes to describing a particular kind of music. But in the 1970s, it was an entirely new concept, and Philip Glass was at the forefront of its definition.
The first use of the word ‘minimalism’ in music is ascribed to the British composer Michael Nyman. He transferred it from the visual arts and applied it to classical works that have simple, repeated melodic ideas, within a relatively small framework of pitch and harmony. The second movement of this concerto by Philip Glass sounds like a dictionary definition of the term: sparse, hypnotic and brooding, it’s the one section of the piece that has guaranteed its continued appeal.
Nowadays, Glass is less keen to be tied down by the m-word, preferring instead for his music to simply be described as having ‘repetitive structures’. Commenting on his Violin Concerto, composed in 1987 and his first major orchestral work, Glass said, ‘The search for the unique can lead to strange places. Taboos – the things we’re not supposed to do – are often more interesting’. The repetitive nature of the piece has its detractors, but there’s no doubt that this is one of the most significant instrumental concertos to have been composed in the last thirty years.
Gidon Kremer (violin); Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra ; Christoph von Dohnányi (conductor). Classic FM: CFM FW 056.
Illustration: Mark Millington