Philip Glass, considered one of the great composers of minimalist music, was born in Baltimore on January 31, 1937. The son of a record store owner, he learned classical music though records his father would bring home after they had failed to sell. Glass took up the violin at age six, and by age eight was playing flute at the Peabody Conservatory. After studying at the University of Chicago and at Julliard, he went to Paris to study with a famous music theory teacher named Nadia Boulanger.
While working with Indian sitar-player Ravi Shankar in the 1960s, he came to the realization that while Western music divides time into quarters, eighths, etc, in Eastern music rhythm is added. A rhythm will repeat itself many times, and then parts of that rhythm are added on to the original to create an entirely new sound. This method of composing, known as the additive process, became the catalyst for Glass' movement into minimalism, which is music that creates excitement and interest through repetitive lines that shift in subtle ways. Glass was fascinated by the additive process and began applying it to his compositions. The piece that best exemplifies his writing in this period is a composition entitled 1+1. The piece consists of two rhythms that are tapped on a table: two sixteenth notes and an eighth note making up the first, and a single eighth note making up the second. The performer repeats these rhythms, then starts adding on parts of those rhythms to the whole line for as long as he/she likes.
In the spring of 1974, Philip Glass and theater director Bob Wilson planned a work using Albert Einstein as its subject. This work became the 1976 opera Einstein on the Beach, which resembled no previous opera. It had no plot and few lyrics. Most of the lyrics that did exist were written by an autistic child named Christopher Knowles. All the actors would wear clothes similar to Einsteinís, every prop would connect with him in some way, and a violinist in full Einstein costume and make-up would perform on-stage to reflect Einsteinís amateur violin playing (Glass, 34). They also came up with the visual themes of the opera: a Train, a Trial, and a Field/Spaceship. Despite these and other radical changes, the opera was a huge success and remains one of Glass's best-known works.