Philip Glass: Etude No. 2

Context

Philip Glass’ first set of Etudes were composed in the mid 1990s. In a recent interview about this set of works he commented saying:

 

“The point of the etudes, originally, was to strengthen my piano playing and that actually worked. I actually got to be a better player by learning those pieces – that would be the first ten. The first ten I wrote in the 90s through 2001, the second ten I wrote in 2004 to the present.

The first ten really have a pedagogical aspect to them for my own development. The second set have nothing or very little to do with that. I began working on a world of ideas. The issue of tonality has been a major issue in music for about 300 years and it hasn’t gone away. With all the 12 tone music of the 20th century we still have tons of tonal music around. 12 tone music made a slight dent, but not a very big one.”

 

The Music

The second Etude is one of the more well-known of the twenty. In the style of a minimalist lullaby, the piano is used in a hypnotic way to lure the listener into a state of relaxation. Opening with a quaver pattern that fluctuates between 7/8 and 4/4 time, this opening structure is used throughout the whole etude. 

The melody is interwoven between this quaver movement, with bell chimes ringing through from both the top and the bottom range of the piano. Glass’ use of dynamics throughout the etude shows the progression of the melody as it is passed between the two hands. This has an impact on the various textures that are knitted together by Glass. 

The consistent repetition adds to the natural progression of the work. The repetition also adds to the lullaby idea as the trance-like motif is repeated for nearly five minutes. In terms of education, this etude would teach someone discipline in their playing and the stamina to keep a peaceful and consistent atmosphere alive. 

 

Final Thoughts

Philip Glass’ Etude No. 2 is a hypnotic lullaby for piano that tugs on the heartstrings whilst also staying true to the ideals of minimalism. The other nineteen etudes explore various techniques and atmospheres, each one unique and quintessentially Glass.

 

Happy Reading!

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