• Philip Glass
  • The Light (1987)

  • Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc (World)

Commissioned by the Michelson-Morely Centennial Celebration

A portrait in music of the scientists Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley and their studies of the velocity of light through their memorable experiments concluded at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, 1887.

  • 2+pic.2.2+bcl.2/4331/timp.4perc/2hp.pf/str
  • 24 min

Programme Note

"The suggestion to write music to commemorate the anniversary of the Michelson-Morley experiment at Case Western Reserve University in 1887 was one to which I could respond immediately.; During the period in 1975 when I was writing Einstien on the Beach with Robert Wilson I had researched the years prior to Einstein's first published work on relativity in 1905 and had come to realise the critical importance of the Micheslon-Morley work to scientists of the time. Quite simply, their discoveries were perhaps the final blow to the system of Newtonian physics which had dominated scientific thought until that moment. On the one hand, they proved the absence of an 'ether' which scientists until then had proposed as a substance that filled space and, on the other hand, they defined the uniformity of the speed of light in every direction regardless of the movement of the earth.

"In a way, these experiments formed in my mind an almost 'before and after' sequence. The 'before' represented something like 19th century physics. The 'after' marks the onset of modern scientific research. Perhaps this may appear somewhat simplified from a scientific point of view, but for a musician it provided a dramatic contrast.

"The music begins with a slow, romantic introduction and leads abruptly to the main body of the work - a rapid, energetic movement which forms the balance of the music. The opening bars are heard again just before the final moments and the music ends quietly.

"I have described this one-movement work as a portrait. In the past I have written portrait operas - Einstein, Gandhi, Akhenaten are the subjects of the first trilogy. In this case, this is a portrait not only of the two men for whom the experiments are named but also that historical moment heralding the beginning of the modern scientific period."

© Philip Glass



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