GLASS Music for the Crucible
Glass has long maintained that he is a theatre composer rather than a minimalist, and has drawn inspiration from the medium over a period of 50 years – from early experiences of seeing experimental theatre productions to being in-house composer for the avant-garde company Mabou Mines, which he co-founded in 1970. However, apart from a few cues from Music for Voices, Dressed Like an Egg or his String Quartet No 2 (the latter originally composed for Mabou Mines’ production of Samuel Beckett’s Company), very little of Glass’s theatre music has actually been released on disc. This recording of music composed for the 2016 Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible partly redresses the imbalance.
Miller’s chilling account of the 1692 Salem witch-hunt, which dramatises the breakdown of society, unleashing the destructive power of mob mentality, continues to resonate with audiences. One can understand why director Scott Rudin – whose cinematic collaborations with the composer have included The Truman Show and The Hours – opted for Glass’s distinctive brand of theatre music, with its dark, obsessive ostinatos, disquieting harmonic shifts and downwards-moving melodic shapes.
However, without any verbal or visual aids, it’s difficult to piece together the parts that make up this musical jigsaw. Written for solo violin and cello, which adds an unsettling intimacy to the stark atmosphere of gloominess, the opening two cues outline the score’s main themes and establish from the very beginning the sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Cue 6 is more intense and agitated, while cues 7A and 7B for solo cello tap into the psychology of fear, loneliness and isolation that grips the victims of the witch-hunt. Cues 10, 12 and 11A form the work’s central spine. Cue 12 bursts into a violent frenzy but the music soon becomes spare, stripped down and hollowed out. The opening theme returns, resigned and drained of expression, as if going through the motions of living out its final moments. Sadly, not a week goes by without there being a Crucible scenario taking place somewhere in the world. The music’s uncertain ending suggests that, as is the case with Glass’s music, history continues to repeat itself.