Words Without Music: A Memoir (Paperback)

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New York Times Bestseller

An NPR Best Book of the Year

Winner of the Chicago Tribune Literary Award

Finalist for the Marfield Prize, National Award for Arts Writing


"Reads the way Mr. Glass's compositions sound at their best: propulsive, with a surreptitious emotional undertow." —Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times


Philip Glass has, almost single-handedly, crafted the dominant sound of late-twentieth-century classical music. Yet in Words Without Music, his critically acclaimed memoir, he creates an entirely new and unexpected voice, that of a born storyteller and an acutely insightful chronicler, whose behind-the-scenes recollections allow readers to experience those moments of creative fusion when life so magically merged with art. From his childhood in Baltimore to his student days in Chicago and at Juilliard, to his first journey to Paris and a life-changing trip to India, Glass movingly recalls his early mentors, while reconstructing the places that helped shape his creative consciousness. Whether describing working as an unlicensed plumber in gritty 1970s New York or composing Satyagraha, Glass breaks across genres and re-creates, here in words, the thrill that results from artistic creation. Words Without Music ultimately affirms the power of music to change the world.



About the Author


Born in Baltimore in 1937, Philip Glass studied at the University of Chicago and the Juilliard School. The composer of operas, film scores, and symphonies, he performs regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble and lives in New York.

Praise For…


Illuminating…[Glass] is always vigorous in defending his artistic choices and aesthetics. Glass's music may sound simple, but it revels in subtle complexity.

— Sudip Bose

Glass, a key figure of musical minimalism, was one of the first composers to reject a distinction between 'ethnic' music and Western classical music, and in this memoir he explains how he came to view a composition not as a linear narrative but as progressive rhythmic sequences.

Essential reading for anyone remotely interested in the evolution of the avant-garde during the past half-century…Words Without Music [is] an important contribution to cultural history.

— Steven G. Kellman

Lively and colorful…. Glass is one of the most articulate composers around. Insight and practical common sense pervade his new book…. With a composer’s sense of form, Glass returns, in the final pages, to his youth, the subject that elicits his most evocative writing.
— Kyle Gann

Well-supplied with droll observations and plainspoken assessments regarding the details of a career that has been as remarkable and noteworthy as any in American music—indeed, in American culture…. Honest and candid.
— Steve Smith

Readers don’t have to like Glass’s music to find pleasure in this warm, unaffected, and deeply human book, but they may come away with an improved understanding of and a greater appreciation for both the music and its composer…. If a listener’s view of a composer is one of the things that shapes his or her perception of the music, an autobiography that alters the composer’s image should have the potential to change the way the music comes across. Words Without Music has done precisely that for me.

— David Hajdu

Philip Glass has written a fascinating account of his life with recollections of family, teachers, and friends. From his childhood in Baltimore to his studies with Ravi Shankar and Nadia Boulanger and the collaborations with Robert Wilson, Allen Ginsburg, Godfrey Reggio, and Martin Scorsese, among others, Glass offers insights to his music and personal life. Words Without Music will be a pleasure to read, not only for musicians (although they will particularly enjoy it) but for anyone interested in the world of art.

— Paul Simon

I came to Philip Glass’s music very simply, without any critical prodding or guidance. I listened and was transfixed. I was excited to work with Philip on Kundun, and he exceeded my wildest expectations giving us a score that was genuinely transcendent. He’s exceeded my expectations again with this rich and beautifully written memoir. Who knew that he was as good a writer as he is a composer?

— Martin Scorsese


Product Details
ISBN: 9781631491436
ISBN-10: 1631491431
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Pages: 432
Language: English