The two big names in so-called minimal or process music (even though Philip Glass now calls himself a classicist) are Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Can we compare them? Should we compare them? How could we not compare them?
Here is the first piece on YouTube by Philip Glass:
And here is a piece by Steve Reich that is as similar as I could find:
Very different, of course, but the point is to observe the differences. What about string quartets? Here is one by Philip Glass (I recommend not watching the distracting video):
Now that's interesting. It sounds a bit like Glassworks in the two against three rhythmic patterns, but here and there is a sequence that almost reminds you of Vivaldi. Now for some Steve Reich. Unfortunately we don't have a simple string quartet by him, so I've chosen the first movement of his Triple Quartet for string quartet and two pre-recorded quartets:
That is certainly more complex than the piece by Glass. It ends abruptly because it goes without pause into the second movement. How about a large ensemble? Here is the first movement of Glass' Cello Concerto:
Steve Reich does not write for conventional orchestra, but here is a piece for largish ensemble:
So what do you think? My impression, without having studied the scores to any of these pieces, is that harmonically and rhythmically Philip Glass is consistently more tied to the past, especially when he takes on larger forms. The two against three of Glassworks for solo piano, the first excerpt, is something we find in a lot of previous composers, along with the fragmentary voice-leading. Steve Reich has an approach that is less easy to find precedents for. His idea of form is additive. His harmonies tend to unfold whereas, in shorter pieces, Glass' are static. In the string quartets there seem to be more interesting, and more difficult to understand, harmonies in the Reich piece. In both the string quartet and the cello concerto, Glass tends to revert back to harmonies and textures that we might find in Vivaldi or a host of orchestral pieces. But in the pieces by Reich, it is hard to hear previous music--at least from the Western world. Additive techniques and layered textures such as in the Music for 18 Musicians remind you more of gamelan than anything else.
The conclusion? We probably have to wait at least fifty to a hundred years, but my intuition is that while both are writing some fascinating and beautiful pieces, there seems to be more substance in Steve Reich. Just a preliminary feeling...
What do you think?