Although Mozart's compositions involving glass retained the light, brilliant clarity of the vitreous substance, others incorporated it with somewhat less delicacy, overburdened by the constraints of excessive orchestration. Among the composers who have used glass as a sonorous resource, we find J. G. Naumann, Hasse, Beethoven, and many others. By the early 19th century, over-orchestration and mechanization of the harmonica had robbed it of its unique and seductive tones, and the instrument quickly began to go out of fashion, although technical refinements continued: the use of artificial pads and violin bows to free the fingers for keyboard activation, as well as the introduction of stroked glass rods by the Wittenberg physicist Ernst Chladni in the 1790s.
The use of glass instrumentation outside the traditional framework begins with the visionary American composer Harry Partch, who developed sets of cloud-chamber bowls (1950), tuned liquor bottles, and light bulbs struck with light mallets. Other American composers who have been involved with glass sound resources include Frederick Rzewski (amplified glass plate in the group "Musica Electronica Viva" in the 1960s); Meredith Monk (wine glasses acoustically 'beating' with vocal improvisations); Bill Fontana (large glass bottle acting as resonator with a microphone suspended inside to eavesdrop) and Annea Lockwood (concerts of live and tape-manipulated glass sounds since the mid 1960s). George Crumb also used tuned wine glasses in his string quartet "Black Angels" to portray 'God music'.
The Glass Orchestra carries on this more exploratory tradition in the history of glass music. Their contribution lies not so much in bringing modern technology to bear on the problems of making, tuning, and playing glass instruments, but rather in their intuitive understanding of the fragile and complex frozen liquid material out of which they sculpt sound pure and clear. Their respect for the uniqueness of glass resonance and sonority, coupled with the fluid interplay of ideas and gestures that is the earmark of good improvisers, has extended its possibilities into an infinite sonic universe emanating from the mysterious magic of glass.
Andrew Timar/John S. Kuipers
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