Einstein on the Beach is an opera scored and written by Philip Glass and designed and directed by Robert Wilson. It also contains writings by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson and Lucinda Childs.
It premiered on July 25, 1976, in Avignon, France, by the Philip Glass Ensemble and also was staged in Hamburg, Paris, Belgrade, Venice, Brussels, Rotterdam, and at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York during 1976.
It is Glass' first and longest opera score, taking approximately three and a half hours to complete, with no intermission. Given the nature of the music (the lengthy repetition of small elements, very gradual development and change, recurring patterns) and Wilson's much longer earlier work, it was Wilson's wish that the audience would be free to enter and leave as they wish.
The plotless libretto of the opera consists of solfege syllables, numbers and short segments of poetry or text developing on the themes of general relativity, nuclear weapons, science and AM radio. The opera consists of nine connected 20-minute scenes separated by what Wilson calls knee plays. The knees created the necessary time to change the scenery of Wilson's seven startling sets, which were designed carefully to interplay with the music. The opera requires an 'orchestra' of soprano saxophone, electronic organ, flute, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, and one or two additional keyboards. On stage appear various soloists, two choruses (14 people and six people), dancers and four actors.
Two performances of the opera have been released on record, the first in 1979 on Tomato Records (and later CBS Masterworks, now Sony Classical), the second in 1993 on Nonesuch Records. The first release was abridged to fit onto four LP records - most notably, the final monologue was truncated - while the second release benefited from being natively recorded for compact disc. The parts were performed by the original actors with the exception of the late Samuel M. Johnson, who was replaced by Jasper McGruder.
An extract from the first Knee Play sequence was used in the very first Orange TV and cinema adverts in 1994.
"One two three four/one two three four five six/one two three four five six seven eight"
The musical score became the first in a loosely related trilogy, followed by Satyagraha (1980) and Akhnaten (1983), although the term trilogy is a little misleading. "Einstein on the Beach," Satyagraha, and Akhnaten also are known as Philip Glass' three "portrait" operas. There often is confusion as to the author of "Einstein on the Beach," as it is a collaboration between Wilson and Glass. It is an opera by Wilson (director), scored by Glass.
The classical guitarist and composer David Leisner transcribed a part of the opera for solo guitar. He did this arrangement with the agreement of the composer.
"Einstein on the Beach" also is the name of songs by the Counting Crows and Man Man.