Philip Glass

Einstein on the Beach Highlights


© GlassPages, 1997

Cover Picture

CD Cover, Opéra de Lyon




  1. KNEE 1 (2:43).
  2. TRAIN 1 (6:16).
  3. TRIAL 1

  4. Entrance (1:00).
  5. "Mr. Bojangles" (7:39).
  6. "All Men Are Equal" (1:19).
  7. KNEE 2 (2:23).
  8. DANCE 1 (6:47).
  9. NIGHT TRAIN (7:08).
  10. KNEE 3 (2:40).

  12. "Prematurely Air-Conditioned Supermarket" (4:08).
  13. Ensemble (1:30).
  14. "I Feel The Earth Move" (1:14).
  15. DANCE 2 (6:34).
  16. KNEE 4 (3:34).
  17. BUILDING (2:37).
  18. BED

  19. Cadenza (1:53).
  20. Prelude (1:07).
  21. Aria (2:52).
  22. SPACESHIP (5:57).
  23. KNEE 5 (4:14).

Audio samples

Introduction to Einstein on the Beach (1:10; 141.744 bytes ).

Introduction to Knee Play 5 (0:48; 96.176 bytes ).

Knee Play 5 (1:02; 124.200 bytes ).


Created by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson, Einstein on the Beach was premiered at the 1976 Avignon Festival and revolutionized once and for all our concept of opera. A key work of the 20th century.

The characters

Robert Wilson It is difficult to talk about "characters" in this very unusual opera for its course is centred on the evolution and circumvolutions of musical themes which divide and close up gain, and the least variation which takes on, through repetition, monumental proportions. It is not clear if Einstein is a witness of the spectacle or if the spectacle exists only in his mind, but around his character gravitate numbers and words, sometimes simple musical notes which when repeated have a hypnotic power and can attain the character of an invocation. Extracts from radio broadcasts, little superimposed texts, add to the mystery of this dense, profound, wordless communication. The human characters, the dancers and actors, clash with a majestic, unsettling décor: a dark, smoking train, a courtroom dominated by a clock... so many elements which stifle the human presence and make it more precarious.

The story

There is no plot properly speaking, but an interwoven web of music and image. Three principal themes - the train, the trial and the space-ship - are carried from act to act and developed with visual and aural variations. These inflected themes are introduced around "Knee plays", which are in fact articulating points (as in the knee-joint). In these knee plays the main performer is a violinist representing Einstein, placed halfway between the stage action and the audience.

The stage movement is conditioned by the music and the décor. The theme of the, Train is marked by a rapid rhythm, reprised in Night Train, which itself becomes Building. The Trial empties out its chorus of jurors to become Prison (A.III, Sc.1).The Dances take place against a distant image of a spaceship, which gets nearer in Act III. The last dance takes place inside the vessel (A.IV, Sc.1). The Bed finally rises in a vertical position until it disappears at the top of the stage.

That words cannot say...

Albert Einstein The result of a collaboration between Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach seemed at the time of its premiere like a complete break with all genres known to date. It remains, in the composer's career, a work apart, a high point of his researches in the field of contemporary music. It consists of the combination of two procedures: the additive process and cyclical structure. The additive process consists of motifs of a few notes which little by little assume scale by successive additions. Cyclical structure plays on the repetition of two different rhythms which are superimposed until the initial combination comes back again. This music fuses with the décors imagined by Wilson to form an atmosphere "of disquieting strangeness". The plot concerns Einstein, the humanist, scientist and musical amateur, a key personality of the 20th century through his theory of relativity, and one of the fathers of atomic fission. Are we seeing one of Einstein's dreams? Do the present and past mingle in these voices which psalmodize numbers and radio programmes - or else are we witnesses to the birth of a theory which leads to a holocaust (the spaceship)? Just as architecture is the fruit of geometry, so music here re-establishes its link with arithmetic, and seems to discover this silent communication founded on concepts inexpressible otherwise than by mathematical formulas, and through sentiments which only pure emotion can fathom...


  • Musical themes of Einstein on the Beach pages by Nicolas Sceaux (in English and French).
  • Einstein on the Beach pages by Jeff Smith.
  • Albert Einstein Online.

  • Pictures

    GlassPages - Philip Glass on the Web
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