Philip Glass: Symphony No.9

I have no real foundation on which to discuss the merits or shortcomings of symphonic music—I’m too busy contemplating Drake, Mike Posner, and Nicki Minaj—but I have heard that the Ninth is considered “the cursed” symphony.

I think it begins with Beethoven, who died after completing his Ninth. Mahler, I’ve read, was so disturbed by the thought of a Ninth, that, after completing his Eight, he tried to dodge The Curse by writing Das Leid von der Erde. But, oh, The Curse can’t be so easily duped: Mahler finally completed a Ninth, but died while working on his Tenth. Gotcha! And we all know what happened to Bruckner. There are at least a dozen other examples, each disputable, surrounded by some level of uncertainty. But, hey, a curse is always good for the history buffs and storytellers. And, as much as anything else, The Curse is what got me interested in Philip Glass’s Ninth.

So, dear Curse, I thank you.

Even Glass, who in interviews seems downright unflappable and admirably self-assured, told the LA Times that The Curse was on his mind. Glass’s Ninth made its US debut, somewhat creepily, on the composer’s 75th birthday—January 31, 2012—at Carnegie Hall. Prior to the premiere, Glass had already wrapped up work on his Tenth, explaining, “You get nervous. These are silly things—Ninth Symphony, what kind of silly jinx is this? But I wasn’t going to wait to find out.”

Fun stuff.

While I have very little real experience with symphonic works, Glass’s Ninth, for better or worse, sounds like my idea of a symphony: It starts off quietly; builds in volume, intensity, and scale; incorporates swirling woodwinds, triumphant brass, stunning percussion; sounds dramatic, cinematic, threads dark with light; and, finally, ends like it began: quietly. Glass is whimsical, too. There are sudden stops, surprising twists, castanets!

I listened to it once all the way through and then over again. And, when I was too tired to listen anymore, I turned the volume on my integrated amp way down low and set my CD player to repeat—partly because I wanted to break-in the Tannoy Mercury V1 loudspeakers and partly because I was afraid of pressing Stop.

rockoqatsi's picture

Then you'd proabably like Romanticism, like late Beethoven, Wagner, or Mahler. They've been most influential on film score composers. (Though Glass didn't start out in film.) If you haven't already, check out Koyaanisqatsi. Get the DVD and rent a projector if you have to. The union of Glass's music and Ron Fricke's cinematography and editing is absolute cinematic poetry.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Koyaanisqatsi was my first experience with Philip Glass. I studied the film and music in college and enjoyed it very much.

rockoqatsi's picture

We had sort of the same experience then. Except that I saw the film by accident; some guy utilized the projector in the editing lab to show his GF, or something. And then my head exploded.

Anton's picture

I agree about the greatness of Koyaanisqatsi, too.

I wonder what the link is between these composers, the curse, and the length of a baseball game.

rockoqatsi's picture

"I wonder what the link is between these composers, the curse, and the length of a baseball game."

What's 999 turned upside down? ^^;

volvic's picture

Will definitely buy the 9th, I recommend his violin concerto played by Gidon Kremer with The Vienna Philarmonic on the DG label, if you find it grab it.