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Classical 101

First Bob Dylan, Now Philip Glass Wins A Major Literary Prize

Composer Philip Glass, Florence 1993

Will surprises never cease?  Recently singer-songwriter Bob Dylan received the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Now composer Philip Glass won the 2016 Tribune Literary Award in Chicago.  

With Dylan, I'm not so surprised actually, because many of his lyrics are poetry, good poetry--try reading "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Chimes of Freedom," " Mr. Tambourine Man," or many other lyrics of the over nine hundred songs he's written...

With Philip Glass, I was a little more surprised because he is, after all, a composer of mostly instrumental music over the last fifty years.  He is also a very articulate man, and he received his award for his memoir "Words Without Music," which was published last year.  He had written an earlier book as well, a collection of essays titled "Music by Philip Glass" in 1987.

The memoir traces his life story, the outline of which will be familiar to anyone who's followed the prolific composer's work, from the challenging Music in Twelve Parts and the groundbreaking opera Einstein on The Beach, to more recent efforts like his many film scores, including writing new scores for old films, turning the soundtrack to Jean Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece "La Belle et La Bete" into an opera.



Philip Glass studied Math and Philosophy at the University of Chicago in the 1950s before moving to New York where he would make his reputation in a genre of music that got the name "minimalism," although Glass prefers to call it music "with repetitive structures."

Like Bob Dylan in the world of popular music, Philip Glass has also been a polarizing figure for the individual path he's chosen to follow.  Not everyone may agree on their level of "genius," but it's pretty clear to me that they are both significant figures in the recent history of music in our culture and for how they've broadened the scope of their art, even though one of them has gotten stuck with the label of "minimalist."