Philip has often said to me: ‘I don’t agree with the way you play this piece, but it’s compelling, so I don’t want you to change it…’
– Víkingur Ólafsson, Breaking Glass: The Musical Journey of Víkingur Ólafsson
Philip Glass’ twenty Études for solo piano, written between 1992 and 2012, continue in the footsteps of composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Rachmaninov, and Ligeti. On one level these Études (or “studies”) function as technical and compositional exercises. Glass has said that he wrote the first ten to improve his skills as a pianist. While focusing on technique, Glass seems to have opened the door to some incredible music.
That is what we hear in this powerful and haunting performance by Icelandic pianist, Víkingur Ólafsson. (Recently, we explored an excerpt from Ólafsson’s newly-released Bach album). As with other minimalist works by Glass, Étude No. 2 develops gradually but unrelentingly from a single opening pattern. New voices sprout like branches on a tree, changing our perception of the original “seed.” Weaving its way around the other voices, the bass line takes us in some delightfully unexpected harmonic directions. Glass’ eternal, repeating patterns give us the sense that we’re turning up the volume on something that has always been there. Listening to Étude No. 2, we find ourselves suspended in an endless, time-altering, sequential loop of tension and resolution.
- Glass: Philip Glass Piano Works, Víkingur Ólafsson Amazon