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Michael Nyman Biography

Michael Nyman Tickets

Michael Nyman In-depth Biography

Celebrated for his modular, repetitive style, minimalist} composer Michael Nyman} was among experimental} music's most high-profile proponents, best known in connection with his film scores for director Peter Greenaway}. Born in London on March 23, 1944, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College, London, under communist composer Alan Bush} and Thurston Dart}, a musicologist specializing in the English Baroque}. Under Dart}'s tutelage, Nyman} was introduced to 16th- and 17th-century English rounds and canons, their repetitive, contrapuntal lines highly influencing his own later work; Dart} also encouraged him to travel to Romania in the interest of seeking out the country's native folk} music traditions. Upon graduating during the mid-'60s, Nyman} found himself disconnected from both the pop} music of the times and the school of modern composition heralded by Stockhausen}; as a result, from 1964 to 1976, he worked not as a composer but as a music critic, writing for publications including The Listener}, New Statesman}, and The Spectator}. In a review of British composer Cornelius Cardew}, he first introduced the word "minimalism}" as a means of musical description.

During this same period, Nyman} did continue performing, appearing with artists ranging from the Scratch Orchestra} and Portsmouth Sinfonia} to Steve Reich} and the Flying Lizards}. In 1974, he wrote the influential book Experimental Music -- Cage and Beyond}, an exploration of the influence of John Cage} on a generation of composers and performers. Perhaps its most profound impact was on Nyman} himself, who through writing the book seemed to discover his own muse; in 1976 he accepted an invitation from Harrison Birtwistle}, Director of Music at the National Theatre, to arrange a number of 18th-century Venetian popular songs for a production of Goldoni}'s Il Campiello}. Nyman}'s arrangements consisted of medieval instruments -- rebecs, sackbuts and shawms, bass drums, soprano saxophones, and the like -- designed for maximum loudness to produce a distinctive instrumental color; when the production ended, he began composing original music merely to keep the same group of musicians together. Originally an acoustic unit, when rechristened the Michael Nyman Band} in the early '80s, amplification became essential to their aesthetic.

Nyman}'s first major success came in 1982 with the score to the Greenaway} film The Draughtsman's Contract}; his subsequent collaborations with Greenaway} on pictures including 1988's Drowning By Numbers}, 1989's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover}, and 1991's Prospero's Books} remain among his most high-profile works, their notoriety coming at the risk of overshadowing his forays into opera}, chamber music}, vocal music}, and dance} scores. The signatures of Nyman}'s work include not only his use of propulsive repetition, but also a palette of idiosyncratic instrumental touches -- thumping keyboards, "rude" bass clarinets, and baritone saxophones, and extreme high and low octave doublings. Mozart} was a central influence in much of his work, including 1976's In Re Don Giovanni} and 1983's I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump}; Schumann}, meanwhile, was the major inspiration behind the acclaimed 1986 chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat}, while Bartok} shades 1988's String Quartet No. 2}, commissioned for the Indian dancer and choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh}.

In 1990, Nyman} composed Six Celan Songs}, a work based on the poems of {%Paul Celan}, for the German cabaret singer Ute Lemper}, with whom he first worked on the score for Prospero's Books}. His most emotional compositions to date, they served as the clear impetus for his score to Jane Campion}'s 1992 film The Piano}, easily Nyman}'s best-known work; like so many of his compositions, he obsessively reworked the music to The Piano} time and time again, the haunting melodies reappearing arranged for standard piano concerto, for two pianos, for chamber ensemble, for soprano saxophone and strings (Lost and Found}), and for soprano and string quartet (The Piano Sings}). While 1992's The Upside-Down Violin} reflected Nyman}'s continuing fascination with traditional ethnic musics, 1993's MGV}, or Musique a Grande Vitesse}, returned to the propulsive sounds of the Michael Nyman Band}. Other major works include 1992's Time Will Pronounce}, 1993's Yamamoto Perpetuo} (a composition for unaccompanied violin written for Alexander Balanescu}), 1994's solo harpsichord work Tango for Tim}, and 1995's String Quartet No. 4}. Among Nyman}'s film scores: 1995's Carrington} and 1997's Gattaca}. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

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