David Bowie meets Minimalism

bowie_aladin_sane_custom_290x320_06200686The recent tragic death of David Bowie (1947 – 2016) has further highlighted the legendary genius of his music and his persona. To mark his death, I’m featuring the following interview with American Minimalist composer Philip Glass, with whom he collaborated. Symphony No. 1 “Low”, also known as the “Low” Symphony is a work by Glass based on the album, “Low”, released in 1977, and written by Bowie and Brian Eno (Glass also based another Symphony, “Heroes” on Bowie’s album with the same title). The “Low” Symphony was written in 1992, and Glass has made these comments about the work:

“The record consisted of a number of songs and instrumentals and used techniques which were similar to procedures used by composers working in new and experimental music. As such, this record was widely appreciated by musicians working both in the field of “pop” music and in experimental music and was a landmark work of that period.

I’ve taken themes from three of the instrumentals on the record and, combining them with material of my own, have used them as the basis of three movements of the Symphony. Movement one comes from “Subterraneans,” movement two from “Some Are” and movement three from “Warszawa.”

My approach was to treat the themes very much as if they were my own and allow their transformations to follow my own compositional bent when possible. In practice, however, Bowie and Eno’s music certainly influenced how I worked, leading me to sometimes surprising musical conclusions. In the end I think I arrived at something of a collaboration between my music and theirs.” (Philip Glass, New York City, 1992).

You can hear the first movement of the “Low” Symphony by clicking here.

Photo: Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photograph by Brian Duffy © Duffy Archive


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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