GLASS Symphony No 4, "Heroes"
If Philip Glass’s Symphony No 2 is his ‘Beethoven’ symphony (its ending almost quotes the famous theme from Beethoven’s Fifth), the Ninth his homage to Mahler, then his Symphony No 4 is arguably closer in spirit to Bruckner. The opening, with its stepwise shift from F minor to E flat major via major and minor iterations of an A flat chord, even possesses something of Bruckner’s harmonic imprint.
In fact, the work’s main source of influence could hardly be further removed from the symphonic tradition. As its title suggests, Heroes is based on David Bowie’s album of the same name – the second of his so-called Berlin trilogy. Bowie’s first Berlin album furnished materials for Glass’s Symphony No 1 (Low) but the composer’s approach is different here. Rather than incorporating wholesale sections, Glass instead takes small fragments of ideas from a number of Bowie and Eno tracks and weaves them into the symphonic fabric.
For example, the Phrygian scale patterns and main melody of the second movement (‘Abdulmajid’) are taken from an instrumental track of the same name (which did not even appear on the original album). In the third movement, Glass starts off by quoting the
portentous chromatic descending four-note figure heard at the beginning of ‘Sense of doubt’ but the music soon follows its own course. Indeed, the more open-ended, fluid and less rigid formal designs of the three instrumental tracks heard on ‘Heroes’ are used to best effect in this symphony.
It’s worth noting, too, that the performance, played with a combination of warmth and vigour by the Sinfonieorchester Basel, deviates in a number of significant ways from the original recording released in 1997 on Point Music (American Composers Orchestra with Dennis Russell Davies again conducting, reissued by Universal). The first movement is almost twice as long. On the Point recording, the opening theme is heard immediately after sustained chords in low brass, at around the one-minute mark. On this recording, the theme is prefigured by an extended section in low strings and winds. Therefore the main theme ‘proper’ does not start until almost two minutes into the symphony. Other extensions and additions are to be found elsewhere, too, all of which draws Bruckner’s spirit even closer to the surface of the work