While listening to Einstein on the Beach, this new musical style created certain tension in my ears and my head. I had many first thoughts and impressions as a performer, which I could describe them within this two simple words: vicious circle. Glass wrote this opera in the summer of 1975, and it premiered in 1976. One of this opera’s details that impressed me, is that there was no intermission; the audience could stay and go outside no matter at what time. Honestly, this style of music was not well received by my brain and ears; possibly because it was my initial overview. Nevertheless, the piece that I chose to analyze, was the “Bed – Aria” from the act IV, Scene 2. Although the main musical sources and material appears within the Knee plays, featuring the solo violin, I found some interesting raw in this Aria.
The melodic structure of the Aria was simple; a single line sung by a soprano voice. No words or text, just “ah”. This melody comes accompanied by an electric organ. The accompaniment is quite simple and outlines different chords; F major – Eb major – C major – D major; There is a lower pedal note with the left hand, and arpeggios in ascending and descending motion in the right hand. We can easily notice the Minimalism presented within this music. Although Glass, as one of the greatest examples of minimal music, never used extended melodies. However, Glass proved that the use of minimal music within opera genre, can consume traditional opera techniques.
The rhythmic structure, as noted above, was based on repeated patterns; the arpeggios never stop until the end. The voice never outlines a specific melody and the rhythm is not clear. The voice just sings long notes within the harmony. I can describe the texture as even and repetitive; the pattern never changes and the atmosphere is hypnotic.
My perception of this Aria was that it sounded very similar to Arvo Pärt’s work: “Spiegel im Spiegel”. It is really peculiar and interesting how Arvo Pärt used exactly the same elements of instrumentation: a keyboard instrument, in this case piano, playing triads outlining the entire harmony. The melody, replaced by the violin in Pärt’s piece, is doing quite the same throughout the piece; long notes within the harmony and, clearly, there is a huge lack of entire melody in the structure. Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, has fewer harmony changes and the tonal goals are more explicit due to the less harmonic variety. The main key of this piece is F major, and the entire harmony is based upon this tonality.
In minimal music, there are complete and extended composition techniques that can be used for every different composition. There are a wide range of resources to write music (including electronic devices). Elaine Broad, finds a closer relationship between minimalism and experimentalism; artists experiment via trial and error. In this context, we can realize how wide the range of possibilities is for writing and compose minimal music. I found it quite interesting that Arvo used almost the same material, quite close to the Glass’ Aria.
Regardless Arvo had a wider palette of options. It could possibly be an amazing coincidence. However, I can say that this curios detail ignited my interest about listening more minimal music and, probably, start to compose something under this concept of music.
Swed, Mark. “Philip Glass’s Operas.” The Musical Times 129, no. 1749 (1988): 577-79. doi:10.2307/966783.
Johnson, Timothy A. “Minimalism: Aesthetic, Style, or Technique?” The Musical Quarterly 78, no. 4 (1994): 742-73. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/742508.
Glass, Philip. “Notes: Einstein on the Beach.” Performing Arts Journal 2, no. 3 (1978): 63-70. doi:10.2307/3245363.
Skipp, Benjamin. “Out of Place in the 20th Century: Thoughts on Arvo Pärt’s Tintinnabuli Style.” Tempo 63, no. 249 (2009): 2-11. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/40496093.