Due to my old-fashioned habit of putting CDs in wallets and then saving those wallets with my college mementos, I found my copy of Glass’s Akhnaten, and I was able to give it a listen while working today.
I remembered why I didn’t take to it years ago — I got tired of the four notes. Thank you! A little Philip Glass humor for you, there. Now that that’s out of the way, I have to admit that I appreciate the work, but as a Glass piece, not an interpretation of the Amarna Period.
Was there ever a composer better named than Glass? His pieces are so clear, cool, prismatic. Akhnaten functions as a splendid example of his work, and an excellent listen when you are otherwise occupied. As a retelling of the Amarna Period, however, it is ultimately unsuccessful. Due to the use of ancient languages for the singers, which sounded so cool to me when I ordered the CDs, the cast are cut off, remote from the listening audience. They are as much as singing bas-reliefs or statuary themselves. Yet the music is distinctly modern, lacking influence from middle Eastern styles that might themselves echo ancient music, so they lack even this verisimilitude. Moreover, the stylized retelling of the story lacks any touch of madness. The tangled, suffocating family tree of the Pharaohs must serve as a major element of any retelling of the whole story of Akhenaten’s reign. Without this human folly, Akhnaten is almost divorced from the heart of its subject.