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Satyagraha

My MP3 player randomly chose Philip Glass’s seminal work Satyagraha for me to listen to on the way into work this morning, and it was indeed a perfect choice…

First performed in 1980, this amazing operatic work  (the title translates as “Insistence of Truth”) tells the story of MK Ghandi’s early years in South Africa as he developed his theories of non violent protest. Each of the three acts imagines a conversation with an influential figure of the time; namely Tolstoy, the Indian poet Tagore and finally Martin Luther King.

Glass’s style is usually described as Minimalist, and although Satyagraha makes good use of his trademark repetition with minor modifications to notes and phrases as the piece develops, I would argue that it is anything but minimal, creating instead a rich and completely mesmerising sound that is wholly complemented by Constance de Jong’s Sanskrit lyrics.

I first came across Satyagraha when I was doing my degree in Leeds in the mid/late 80’s and have loved it ever since. I’m not really a classical music fan, but to me, Glass’s work transcends the basic violin and cello stuff that makes up the vast majority of this sort of music. Glass is also not afraid to use electronic sounds and keyboards (which of course can only be a good thing…)

Me & A were lucky enough to get to see a performance of Satyagraha at the English National Opera in April 2007. Produced by the Improbable Company (director Phelim McDermott & designer Julian Crouch) it is without doubt one of the most visually amazing things I have ever had the pleasure to see.

I’m probably giving too much away here, but I was so moved by the first act, that I was actually crying at one point… The huge papier-mache puppets, the clever references to and use of newspaper print, the unbelievably brilliant and inspired use of rolls of Sellotape stretched across the stage and then wound up together, the projections onto the corrugated iron backdrop and the subtly understated choreography all worked together to create an almost perfect experience. If only all opera could be that good….

Truly a magical night, and truly a wonderful piece of music…

(I don’t know this version on Spotify, but I’m guessing it must be pretty similar)

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  1. September 20, 2011 at 05:27

    This post receives a thumbs high from me.

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