Philip Glass


Satyagraha

An opera in three acts









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GlassPages Review

"Satyagraha" is the second part of Philip Glass' so-called "portrait"-trilogy, which contains of "Einstein on the Beach", "Satyagraha" and "Akhnaten". In "Einstein on the Beach" it was a scientist, who was the middle of the artistic work, but now in "Satyagraha" it is Mohandas K. Gandhi, a man, who can be called in a wider sense a politician. In any case, the opera emphasizes especially this aspect of Gandhi's work, particularly because the scenes show events (in a non-chronological way), which happened during Gandhi's time in South-Africa.

In the music we see a very different Philip Glass. The sometimes aggressive sound of "Einstein on the Beach" has given way to a much more soft, melodical, yes, occasional spiritual sound. In that case, the choice of the ensemble is very important: Instead of the Philip Glass Ensemble we hear now a classical symphony-orchestra, and the arias are sung by classical trained singers, assisted by an opera-chorus.

Most of the music is very harmonical with a lot of melody-like parts. Of course, the method of repetition is still used, but now Glass works more often with tonal chords. Very much he uses the means of addition and subtraction of notes by repeating a small unit within a bigger one and enlarging the number of notes, and later after that he reduces the number. A bit changing can be seen in Glass' work, which beginning can be remarked in "Dance". Now the clear and soft sound dominates; hurry or rush are used very rarely.

The language is still strange. In "Einstein on the Beach" it was the content of the texts and their reference to the performance which seems to be sometimes unintelligible. Now in "Satyagraha" it is the language itself: Glass and his librettist, Constance DeJong, chose parts of the "Bhagavad-Gita" in its original language, the classical Sanskrit. But anyway, also the language is part of the more gentle and spiritual impression, which seems to be very adequate to the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mathias Sträßer
Sept, 1998
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