Paul Glass is a well-known figure in Carona. This is a typically mediaeval Ticinese village, nestling between the romantic-sounding Monte San Salvatore and Monte Arbostora above Lake Lugano. On the day of our encounter in mid-April, spring had finally made its late appearance, and the steep hillsides were covered in azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias in full bloom.
The charmingly rustic villa was everything we expected of a place occupied by two such creative, yet complementary, artists. At first a little awed at how we were to address two Professors in the same breath, we were soon made to feel very welcome as we sat outside around a circular stone table, in the shade of a canopy of overgrown vines. American-born Paul Glass is Visiting Professor of Music History, while his English-born wife Penelope Margaret's academic title is Adjunct Associate Professor of Studio Art and Sculpture. Both offer courses at Franklin College (a privately-run American university in Lugano), in the Department of Art and Art History. But that's only part of the story: Paul continues his passion for composing serious contemporary music, while Penelope Margaret's astonishingly original sculptures have been exhibited all over Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.
Paul Glass exudes a boyish enthusiasm that belies his years. Dressed in casual blue jeans with matching jacket, he has a twinkle in his eyes as he recounts tales of his past exploits. He was born in Los Angeles of a French father and a mother of Ukrainian descent, a combination creating a trio of unique abilities in their son: musicality with perfect pitch, a mathematical ability, and the gift of languages (his wife Penelope Margaret claims he speaks more than 12).
Despite his father's film-star background, Paul Glass decided early on to follow the path of serious music. After gaining a degree in music from USC, he won a Fulbright scholarship to study for two years under Goffredo Petrassi at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome, and later with Witold Lutosławski in Warsaw. In 1957 he received the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony Award and the same year composed his first film score, The Abductors. Like many serious composers Glass developed two styles of film scoring: firstly, the more accessible approach for mainstream movies. These would include the haunting Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), which became a popular soundtrack album, and Overlord (1975), a respected docu-drama about the D-Day Landings with the score modelled on the music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Some of the people Paul Glass has worked with read like a "who's who" of the most famous artists of the twentieth century: Otto Preminger, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, Jacques Cousteau, Christopher Lee. Never wishing to compromise musically for the sake of cheap commercialism, he decided after his last commission for Hammer that writing film scores was no longer the right environment for his creative abilities.
Since moving to the Ticino in the mid-70s, he has focused on his own composing. The breadth and scope of his musical output to date is truly impressive, with his works being performed by many of Switzerland's major orchestras and all over Europe. These range from the children's ballet Kakapo (the world's largest parrot), to the achingly beautiful tone poem Grandiflora, depicting the 17 distinct colours of the moss rose. Most of his works are dedicated to his wife Penelope Margaret.
Later we're given a privileged glimpse into the home of these two outstanding yet unassuming artists: into the composer's cramped but creative music room, strewn with hand-written music scores; and then into a smaller room, where the sculptor's intricate polygonal structures are displayed. The mutual respect the couple have for each other and their art is remarkable.
Thank you to both Professors for giving their time so generously to Hello Switzerland, and for a delightfully artistic encounter.
Further information on both artists can be found by typing their respective names into Google (in her work as a sculptor, Paul Glass's wife is known by her maiden name of Penelope Margaret Mackworth-Praed).