Opera

Satyagraha

Grant Bartley focuses on the forces of history through Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi.

Do great forces, or great men and women, make history? The theory of history promoted by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) is that great people (for him, heroic men) determine the course of events. But is it rather the case that the course of social and cultural development is determined by implacable forces at work in society and culture en masse, as Hegel, Marx and others have maintained? I want us to consider this question with the help of Mahatma Gandhi, the English National Opera, and modern composer Philip Glass.

Gandhi Through Glass Symbolically

I recently saw Glass’s opera Satyagraha (1979) at the English National Opera near Leicester Square in London. Glass’s music might be familiar to you from the film Koyaanisqatsi (1982). His interacting melodic lines, based on sets of three notes, phase in and out of intensity in waves of varying turbulence, sometimes quiescent, and sometimes breaking out in frenetic refrains: his characteristic sound is the aural equivalent of water cascading along a river in swirls and eddies.

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