The Right to Steal Shall Not Be Abridged


Occasionally teaching is indeed its own reward, even discounting the involvement of the students. This semester I’m teaching my Advanced Analysis Seminar, which I’m devoting to minimalist and postminimalist music (partly in advance of my postminimalism book, partly in anticipation of next September’s minimalism conference). The idea of the seminar is that we work on pieces I haven’t yet analyzed myself, so that instead of me telling them ex cathedra what I already know, we all go through the discovery process together, and they watch me do what I do when I analyze music, both fumbling around and flashes of insight. And they help me, their brains being newer and quicker than mine. Classically minimalist music is, of course, fairly easy to parse, though we have to come up with our own methods to represent its procedures and figure out how perception and process interrelate. And today we were working on Einstein on the Beach, of which I bought the score earlier in the year. 

And man, what a blast. Whenever I go through a piece of music I know well with the score for the first or second time, my opinion of the piece either rises or falls somewhat, depending on what I start to perceive in the piece once I fully realize what’s going on. Einstein was a vastly important piece from my youth, and while I always loved sections of it, my opinion of the whole has risen noticeably this week. (I had an opposite experience with Glass’s later opera The Voyage, a more tedious work than I’d remembered.) Today we went through the “Train” scene in about an hour and a half, and broke it down into an A A’ B A” B form – it’s the most complex scene from the opera, bringing together two of the recurring chord progressions (there are only about five in the whole four-hour work), as well as running ostinatos of different lengths together, Totalist style – which I may have to start calling Minimalist style. There’s a returning transitional passage (“x”) between the other sections, so it’s really A x A’ x B x A” x B, and the three A sections all fall into the same material after awhile, but start out with a different additive-process buildup. (The B sections recur in the final “Spaceship” scene.) In short, the form is both musically logical and satisfyingly intuitive. We had a similar experience with Reich’s Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ, and I’m not even going to tell you where I got that rare score – one of the prettiest pieces ever made. Much as I love so much minimalist repertoire, I somehow don’t expect it to excel in the intuition department, and I’m being pleasantly surprised.

And now I’m pissed off as hell that I had to wait until age 52 to get a score to Einstein, a piece I’d been obsessed with since I was 22. I was wearing out my vinyl discs of this piece nonstop in 1978, and a score should have been available for sale at Patelson’s by 1980, so I could have learned all of Glass’s (and Reich’s) formal tricks before I embarked on my professional career. Instead, I find out that I correctly stole some of their ideas by ear, but there were some other neat formulas that I didn’t realize were there. It’s criminal that great music can’t pass in score form to younger composers within a few years. And it’s why I put nearly all my scores up as PDFs on my web site: I refuse to catapult any ideas out into the world without facilitating their immediate theft by young (or older) composers. I may not have any ideas anyone wants to rip off, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to squirrel them away out of reach.


  1. says

    That’s a great way to teach analysis, Kyle. And by that I mean, of course, that that’s how I would do it.
    I agree about the Reich. What a pretty (and beautiful) piece!
    KG replies: It’s also very convenient because not preparing for class becomes a virtue.

  2. says

    I do appreciate that you share your music and ideas so freely. Thank you. I recently printed up, played and enjoyed a couple of your “Private Dances.” Nicely done!
    I am very interested in how musicians, academic and otherwise, think about the music of Glass, Adams, Part and others. I admire the fact that you are doing your analysis in tandem with your students. I too have parsed this music sectionally, harmonically and motivically in an effort to understand it. But since the materials of the music itself can sometimes be pretty simple, I wonder about how it works on me and other listeners.
    As a sometimes busker living, writing and performing here in Western Michigan, I have had interesting conversations with listeners on the street after performing “China Gates” by John Adams on my EP. “Sounds random” a couple of elderly appreciative listeners new to the style once observed. I realized that this aspect of the music is something that also attracts me.
    I have introduced a room of Music Ap college students more than once to Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” and been amazed at how often this simply-constructed piece finds sympathetic and patient first-time listeners.
    Does this music work a bit like a Calder mobile? A mobile is a concrete creation. But I think of it as non-linear the same way I think of some music as non-linear. There are random aspects of a mobile that rely on the subjective point of view of the looker. For me, the experience of looking at it and being in the same room with it creates a still kind of changing motion that reminds me of the music I like by people like Glass, Reich, Adams and Part.
    Not sure exactly how this kind of observation relates to the rigorous analytical studies necessary for parsing any music. I did notice however that in Adams’s pictorial analysis included in my copy of his score for ” China Gates” that he seems to make a few mistakes in relation to his parsing of his own music. At least it seems that way to me as I try to understand what he is representing with his synoptic graph.
    I was reading recently about Brahms’s reaction to his colleagues less-than-enthusiatic reception of his Fourth symphony. He said something about the impossibility of analysing or quantifying melody. I think that unquenchable curiosity about all aspects of music is a given, but I haven’t really been exposed to much thinking about the so-called miminalist approach to composing that has helped me in the same way I remebmber Schenkerian analysis turned on some lights of understanding for me as a student. Come to think of it, as I age I tend to conceptualize about the music I play, listen to and write more and more in a subjective intuitive way even as I continue to analyse it.

  3. andrés says

    where exactly are you uploading the pdf’s? I’m also obssesed with Einstein on the Beach. greetings and respect from South America.
    KG replies: Well, I’m not uploading them. What did you have in mind?

  4. says

    I wanted to thank you for taking the music of Glass so seriously; all too often, I’ve run up against the idea that he does not deserve serious consideration as a composer and had nothing more than a gimmick. I have great respect for Glass because of the sheer tenacity with which he stuck to his ideas. Einstein was also a pivotal work in my musical thinking and it was that one piece — in combination with the CIVIL warS — that brought me back into the academy to finish up my bachelor’s.
    KG replies: Thanks, and you’re entirely welcome. Glass’s output is extremely variable, but there are some amazing pieces, of which Einstein is deinifitely one.