Façades, Philip Glass
A Mixed Bag Arrangement for the Classroom
Explore this page for background information and analysis, the arrangement, resources for learning each part, and help with improvisation!
First, listen to the original here:
Composed in 1981 by minimalist composer Philip Glass (or has he prefers, a composer of “music with repetitive structures”), Façades is written for 2 soprano saxophones, viola, cello (and synthesiser doubles for the viola and cello).
Originally, the piece was intended to accompany a visual montage of scenes from New York’s Wall Street on a Sunday morning in the film, Koyaanisqatsi.
The piece contains a number of ostinatos (repeating musical patterns) over three main harmonic centres (chords), clearly outlined in the cello (Am, Ab, Eb).
* chord is closer to Ab6add#4 but is written throughout as Ab6 for simplicity
The viola, cello (and later on the second soprano saxophone) perform ostinatos that alternate between two notes of the chord in a quaver pattern. By alternating between two notes with groups of three quavers (seen below), the sense of the beat is blurred.
In some places (the second bar of Ab and Bb each time it returns), quavers are grouped in two instead of three. What effect does this have?
Listen to the original again. Describe the rhythm of the melody and the rhythm of the accompanying parts. What effect does this have?
Keep your answers in mind when performing your part and improvising!
The Mixed Bag Arrangement
In this arrangement, each part is given the harmonic progression so that they may be aware of the changes in sound and character in each chord, with each chord changing the atmosphere significantly. The repetition in the piece - within each ostinato, the harmonic repetition and repetition structurally - allows room for creativity and improvisation in each part.