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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Book of Longing (2007)
Work Notes
Music Theatre. Poems (English) and Artwork by Leonard Cohen.
Text Writer
Leonard Cohen
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hour 25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
four singers, actor
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Programme Note
Philip Glass Book of Longing (2007)
Leonard and I first began talking about a poetry and music collaboration more than six years ago. We met at that time in Los Angeles, and he had with him a manuscript that became the basis of the collection of poetry now published as the Book of Longing. In the course of an afternoon that stretched into the evening, he read virtually the whole book to me. I found the work intensely beautiful, personal, and inspiring. On the spot, I proposed an evening-length work of poetry, music, and image based on this work. Leonard liked my idea, and we agreed to begin. Now, six years later, our stars are in alignment, the book is published, and I have composed the music. For me, this work is both a departure from past work and a fulfillment of an artistic dream.
© Philip Glass

Composed by Philip Glass and based on the poetry of Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing is a song cycle composed for ensemble, singers, spoken word and imagery. The culmination of years of mutual admiration between two of the most celebrated musical artists of their generation, the piece features new music by Philip Glass that is inspired by Cohen’s collection of poems and his artwork of the same name.

  • Soloist(s)
    Philip Glass, Leonard Cohen
    Orange Mountain Music:
PHILIP GLASS: 'Book of Longing' Leonard Cohen, speaker; vocalists; instrumental ensemble, conducted by Michael Riesman. Orange Mountain Music OMM0043; CD. A BENEFIT of running your own record company is that you can get your projects out almost before the ink dries. And Philip Glass, who plows through score paper by the ream, clearly doesn't want to fall far behind. His hot work this summer — before "Appomattox," his hot work of the fall — was "Book of Longing," a collaboration with the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. A cycle of 22 songs, the work had its premiere in Toronto in June and turned up at Lincoln Center in July. Mr. Cohen's poetry, like his song lyrics, explores his fascination with both spirituality and carnality, his failures as likely an inspiration as his successes. He writes with the same wit he has brought to his songs since the mid-1960s but with greater depth and concision. Off-kilter religiosity is a trademark: many of the poems are deeply rooted in Jewish imagery, but Mr. Cohen's struggle to master Buddhism is a recurring theme as well. In bringing these texts to life Mr. Glass abandons many of his trademark gestures, or draws on them only in passing. Instead he provides graceful, constrained melodies that cling tightly to the texts and sometimes mirror Mr. Cohen's own style: a consequence, perhaps, of the natural cadence that weaves through Mr. Cohen's work. Mr. Glass's most striking contributions often come between the texts, in extended, virtuosic instrumental solos. The instrumentalists play this music exquisitely. The singing, by vocalists drawn mostly from pop, jazz and theater, is purposely unpolished and sounds more rough-hewn and modest on disc than it did in concert. Mr. Cohen's baritonal readings, interspersed through the set, are a highlight. In concert he was heard on tape; here he seems as present (or not) as anyone else, an illusory part of the ensemble rather than a ghost in the machine.
Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES,11/11/2007
Spoleto Festival USA presents the American premiere of Book of Longing, the long-awaited new concert work by Philip Glass, one of the most influential composers of our time, and based on legendary poet and singer Leonard Cohen's recently published poetry collection, his first in over 20 years. The culmination of years of admiration between two of the most celebrated musical artists of their generation, Glass sets Cohen's words – at once playful, erotic, meditative, and singularly provocative – to a new score performed by an ensemble of singers and musicians, drawn from indie rock, classical and new music circles. Glass himself plays keyboard.
n/a, Spoleto Festival, USA,02/01/2007
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