Pieces of Glass: Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, and Morning Passages

Isabella Bustamante

A Song Report

“Morning Passages”-Phillip Glass

Running to stay in the same place; the women of “The Hours” twist hair, arrange flowers, sleep and are awakened to go nowhere, never to arrive. While the men are seen active, driving cars, engaged in conversation, and walking about, the women all arise to the morning in a painful stoicism. Phillip Glass’s “Morning Passages” uses repetition as well as the heightening and suppression of musical drama to propel the listener forward solely to drag them back to where they began.

The opening chords of a steady solo piano are repeated four times in succession only to a rest in a severe silence, the pattern reoccurs. The ear is subjected to the game of this decisive musical decision; the notes have ceased before the song has even begun. This brilliant juxtaposition of start and stop attains the listener’s attention. Glass’s identical haunting measures establish a pattern which must disintegrate to be repeated. It likens to hopeless progression of the lives of “The Hours” women. Ever the phoenix metaphor, as the music is born, it also dies.

Glass is a master at using the eerie power of repetition to hypnotize the listener. When the orchestra enters the mix we don’t get a sense of charging forward, nor a sense of time passing, the music evolves but is rooted to its foundation. Interestingly, the visuals do not mirror the dynamism this transmuting orchestra. Rather they reflect what it symbolizes; the common, peculiar, and disappointing morning, which each woman lacks enthusiasm to greet.

Glass as well denies the listener of a symphony’s theatrical grandeur. It seems each time the music reaches a climax, becomes farther removed from its original form, or mutates its complexity it is stripped of its chaos, reverting back to the singular chimes of the piano. The piano is at the center of this whirlwind of instruments, pulling and commanding them to its scheme in a delicate syncretism. It exists to harmonize, reject, and meet its end with the orchestral parts; thus there is conflict and submission. Glass reconstructs our conception of musical movement just as the movie’s visuals do. It is as if we, like the music, and women desire to be part of a great change around us but are helplessly rooted to the spot where we stand.

The clinking soul of the piano, emphasized by the seductive clanging orchestra, builds throughout the five and a half minutes. From the starting sequence they are constantly reconstructing, magnifying, and minimizing that elementary cyclical pattern, so genius in its design.

Glass is a wizard at spiral, upward and downward. All he needs is the lyricism of the understated entrance to bewitch the listener, to overtly sooth and quietly shock the senses. We are helplessly trapped in the sound which revolves around ending where it began, as Mrs. Dalloway’s Peter says, “Nothing exists outside us except a state of mind” (85). What we want the music to do to us, what these women want, and what Glass wants is to transport the listener to a place they can never physically reach. The movement of the music is therefore only internal, never existing outside one's self. It's not meant to move us anywhere that is not within ourselves.