“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
So opens Virginia Woolf's most famous novel, and arguably her greatest work.
It was this book, via the film The Hours (2002) which brought me to the music of Philip Glass. And oh, my goodness, what a combination.
Mrs Dalloway suffered, in my eyes, for years, as a result of being a set text in various study courses (Silas Marner and The Age of Innocence are currently enduring the same fate, from which I must liberate them at some point). I could hardly get through Woolf's novel, let alone see why everyone else thought it was so wonderful, ground-breaking and thought-provoking.
Watching The Hours at the cinema changed everything. The film itself is a masterpiece, beautifully filmed and acted. And as for its score? You probably won't be surprised to know that I take a great interest in film scores. It's amazing that we have got this far into Project LT without coming across one – there are certainly plenty in the iTunes listing.
Philip Glass's music for The Hours is utterly perfect. In one way, you don't hear it during the film because it is so expertly crafted to suit the mood of the story, the visuals and the characters. You could also not imagine any other music being suitable at all for this picture. But it made such an impression on me that I can remember rushing out to the shops the following day (this was pre-iTunes remember) to track down the CD – it was a must-have purchase.
When you get to the end of a film and have to remind yourself to breath, you know that something special has happened. This was the case once again this week when I re-watched the film on DVD as a precursor to writing this post.
So what it is about his music that makes me gush like this? It is mysterious, exotic, of another land. It is insistent, never taking no for an answer. It is always restless and not the sort of music from which one can take much comfort. But at the same time, the harmonies and balance between instruments are beautiful, delicate, sometimes powerful and so compelling.
I have since acquired other Glass compositions. Nothing for me yet has had the same impact as the score of The Hours. But all the music I have listened to has the same characteristics.
It seems to me that he writes music that is like life. Like those novels that don't end 'properly' – without neat, punctuated 'happy ever after's.
Don't get me wrong, this music is not completely avante garde – there is still very much a recogniseable adherance to standard musical structures, tonal hamonies etc. His compositions are very interestingly constructed -distinctive, rich and dramatic. They tell their own stories. And who knows what might happen on the way to the flower shop…..