I’m sure I’m not the first composer to watch the trailer for Glass, a Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts, the recently released documentary film about “our greatest living composer,” as the San Francisco Chronicle dubs him. I’m equally sure that I’m not the first composer whose ears pricked up upon hearing Glass’s concluding voiceover:
You know, there’s a lot of music in the world. You don’t have to listen to mine. There’s Mozart; there’s the Beatles. Listen to something else. You don’t have to listen to this. You have my blessings—go on, listen to something else. I don’t care.
In other words: “Who cares if you listen?”
I’m not calling attention to this startling symmetry to castigate Glass, or Babbitt, or even the editorial staff at High Fidelity. Neither Glass nor Babbitt (nor, to the best of my knowledge, anyone who reads NewMusicBox) is a court musician whose job is to satisfy the whims of a wealthy patron. I only hope that Glass’s espousal of this perspective comes at a time when the tastemakers and gatekeepers of listening culture are ready for it; they certainly weren’t ready for Babbitt’s suggestion, way back in ’58, that composers may need to consider criteria other than mass palatability in their compositional decisions.
But the resentful audiophiles who retitled Babbitt’s essay aren’t the only ones to have commented on this situation, of course. When I heard Glass’s pronouncement at the end of that trailer, a few other choice quotes from living composers sprang to mind:
“I don’t believe that composers of new music sell out. The money’s not good enough.”
“$#@! the audience. You are the audience.”