Philip Glass – Etudes for Piano

This CD is a gift for fans of the music of Philip Glass. The music captures the lyricism of his best work, and showcases the full range of his style within a collection of short piano pieces.

The Etudes are an interesting collection. As etudes, they explore a range of piano technique. They also explore the world of piano music through Glass’s eyes.

The music is immediately identifiable as Glass’s. If you’ve heard some of his more popular and accessible work, such as the score for Koyaanisqatsi, you’ll find the style of the Etudes familiar.

There are ten pieces. They don’t form a complete cycle, but are just the first ten that Glass has written. In his liner notes, Glass explains some of the goals for the work: “Their purpose was two-fold. First, to provide new music for my solo piano concerts. And second, for me to expand my piano technique with music that would enhance and challenge my playing. Hence, the name Etudes, or “studies”. The result is a body of work that has a broad range of dynamic, tempo and emotion. I hope to complete the second set of ten etudes, of which the first six are already composed, in the next few years.”

The pieces cover a range of tempos and moods. Several of the pieces are outstanding. One example is Etude II. This etude is very lyrical, and uses the full range of the keyboard to create motion within the piece. An lyrical ostinato continues through the piece while a simple melody is played first in the low end of the keyboard, then at the high end, and then simultaneously. The ostinato is then treated chordally, before returning to the initial treatment.

Etude X is another clever piece. It’s full of joy, with bouncing tempo. Glass contrasts the ends of the keyboard against each other, and the melodies dance around with the feel of a Hungarian folk dance.

The Etudes have two main failings. First, they don’t break new ground for Glass. If you’ve heard any of his recent music, there will be little that will surprise you on this CD. Second, the pieces are not best served by his performance. Glass is not a virtuoso pianist. While there are benefits to hearing the composer perform his work, it’s hard to listen to these pieces without thinking that a great pianist might have brought more life into them.

Overall the Etudes are an enjoyable collection of music, and a necessary addition for Glass fans. Others may want to give this a listen before buying.

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