Who is Michael Nyman? – Classical music


OWhat will the story of Michael Nyman, former Essex boy, outspoken critic, minimalist composer, experimental rock pianist, bandleader, visual artist and bespectacled Queen’s Park Rangers fan, do?

One of the most qualified musicologists to provide the answer might have been the composer himself, whose 1976 book, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyondgives an incisive account of the varied and changing musical landscape from 1950 to 1970. Nyman reveals the democratic impulse to make music with a minimum of means – from the 4’33” from Cage’s silence to the Fluxus experiments of La Monte Young to its equally anarchic expression in the work of Cornelius Cardew and his Scratch Orchestra, in which Nyman himself played.

But the musicologist’s convincing analysis of British experimental music necessarily comes to an end when his own career as a composer is just beginning: it is Nyman’s insight into the music of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley, as well as his immersion in Britain’s experimental music scene – including lessons with Cardew at Morley College and performances in the self-proclaimed “world’s worst orchestra”, the Portsmouth Sinfonia – which inspired his own return to composition. . Open and playable by anyone, the minimal music gave Nyman a voice that was tonal, visceral and, unlike the complexity of 12-tone serial music, approachable.

When was Michael Nyman was born and where did he grow up?

Michael Nyman was born in London on March 23, 1944. He grew up in Chingford, Essex, in a non-musical Jewish family. It wasn’t until his elementary school teacher noticed his musical talent, nurturing his singing, piano, theory and musical appreciation, that Nyman began to realize his potential as a composer. Yet, very early on, it is possible to see in the young Nyman the collector’s mentality that characterizes his style: from an early age, he collected cigarette cards, matchboxes and details of car license plates. cars. His hobby alludes not only to his attraction to the obsessive qualities of Greenaway films – his first Greenaway play, appearing in The fallswas the ‘Birdlist Song’, a work in which soprano Lucie Skeaping listed the birds on a single, sforzandorepeated high note – but will also inspire his opera Man and boy: Dadabased on an exhibition in Düsseldorf of bus tickets and bric-a-brac that the artist collected as a child.

Where does Michael Nyman is studying music?

After studying at the Royal Academy, Nyman’s musical horizons were broadened at King’s College London by musicologist and conductor Thurston Dart, who instilled in him his passion for rounds, canons and takes and the encouraged to explore folk music. In 1964, Nyman went to Romania and discovered the folk song which would reappear in his String Quartet No. 3. Also in 1964, he attended the summer school organized by Harrison Birtwistle and Michael Tippett at Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, where he became interested in serialism. This sparked his creative crisis – just like at the Academy, Nyman felt “I wasn’t really one of them”, so at the Serialists Summer School he surrendered realized that he could no longer compose the British music he had written at the Academy. .

What inspired Michael Nyman’s style?

Nyman discovered his style while looking to Baroque music, arranging 18th century gondolier songs in his incidental music for a production by Carlo Goldoni Il Campiello at the Old Vic in 1976. The production’s motley mix of modern and medieval instrumentation formed the basis of its own ensemble, which would include old and “new” instruments – rebecs and shawms alongside saxophones and banjo – all playing as loud as possible. The same historical awareness will also inspire his reworkings of past composers: from Mozart, in Nyman’s first major concert piece, Re Don Giovannifor Purcellmost memorably reused in his score for Peter Greenaway’s groundbreaking film, designer contract (1982). But as his collaborations with Greenaway have brought him an ever-widening audience, questions surrounding his recycling of the works of others have come under closer scrutiny. How, his detractors would ask, does he get away with it?

Nyman looks to history for the answer: this borrowing is nothing new; Bach looked Vivaldi concertos just as Vivaldi looked at Corelli’s concertos. This year Nyman has been commissioned by the Liverpool Biennale, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Liverpool Cathedral to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The resulting work, his Eleventh Symphony, is a 50-minute work for choir and orchestra that reuses, among its own music, a phrase from Purcell’s opera. king arthur. Nyman had first introduced the Purcell as Memoriala play written in memory of the Juventus FC fans killed in the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985. It also appeared in his Greenaway Revenge Tragedy soundtrack The cook, the thief, his wife and her loverbringing memories of that film’s brilliant but brutal scene – in which the wife’s lover is served to her husband at a banquet – to bear on the commemoration of a real-life tragedy.

So is Nyman’s Baroque-style parody perhaps a sign of a composer who, having discovered his voice overnight, struggles to find new things to say? Certainly, his creative frustrations over the years have been many: with Greenaway for an insensitive use of his music in their latest film, Prospero’s books, which marked their breakup after an 18-film collaboration spanning more than a decade; with the British opera scene – although he wrote three operas, he was never commissioned by the Royal Opera House or the English National Opera; and with Hollywood – his theme for The piano (not even nominated for an Oscar, he’ll complain later) led to Jude Law’s sci-fi Gattacahis collaboration with Daman Albarn on Voracious and Neil Jordan’s adaptation of The end of the affair, but never to be fully embraced by the film industry. Meanwhile, the contemporary music scene has been snorting – about Nyman’s large audience, his soundtracks, his crude commitment to the money-making business. And so it is that Nyman, who in recent years has left London to live in Mexico City, now assumes his status as an outsider in British contemporary music.

Yet even in the late 1970s he was also one of Britain’s most commercially successful classical composers. His band’s sound — breathless rhythms, borrowed baroque basslines, sped-up reps — is unmistakably his. Likewise, his thoughtful works for solo piano are not only popular but distinctive, the undulating rustic romanticism and folkloric melancholy you find providing the voice of the mute Ada in his score for Jane Campion’s film. The piano clearly rubs off on this other popular composer-pianist Ludovic Einaudi (whose music Shane Meadows in turn popularized with It’s Brittany). Far from offering a sign of opportunity, Nyman’s borrowings found more nuanced expression on the operatic stage, notably in The man who took his wife for a hat (1986), based on neurologist Oliver Sacks’ case study of a professional singer whose love for Schumann Dichterliebe in turn provides Nyman with much of his thematic material.

Nyman’s Re Don Giovanni (1977), with its unique chord progression taken from Mozart’s opera, divided into a series of repetitive beats, is perhaps the first complete expression of his style. Like the repeated high Ace of his “Birdlist Song”, it is mechanically joyous, oscillating between the glitzy and the mundane – music that embraces and pays homage to the past while suggesting a frustrated desire to break free from it. In these early years, Nyman would distinguish between his European-based minimalism and the American brand that assimilated African and Indian music, but his sphere of influence would later expand to include dance projects. Sway and exit no exit with Indian choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, and a tour of India to select musicians for his 2000 work Three ways to describe rain. His style would also become more lyrical – meeting the demands of directors whose films had stories to tell – while continuing to adopt a Reich-like rhythmic momentum, like his 1993 high speed musiccelebrating the opening of the TGV line between Paris and Lille.

But it’s Greenaway’s images – dark, mystifying painterly canvases that embrace baroque opulence, sexual imagery, dark humor and mysterious rituals – that have given Nyman the most powerful visual analogy for his raucous anti-empathic and its refracted historical perspectives. For his first feature film collaboration, The falls (1980), Greenaway requested 92 variations – one for each of the film’s characters – over four bars of Mozart’s slow movement concert symphony. The same piece would reappear in Greenaway’s Drowning in numbers, its score based on themes from the slow movement of the Sinfonia, the three bars (58-61) recurring after each husband’s drowning. In One Zed and two zeros (1985), Nyman returned to baroque sound techniques designer contract score: ground basses and bouncy basslines accompanying Greenaway’s images of animals and rotting fruit.

In many ways, Greenaway provided the perfect collaboration partner – although Nyman wrote Greenaway’s memoir, the footage was cut to the music, allowing the composer to develop ideas that would remain intact on screen. Since then, Nyman has continued to explore the relationship between sound and image, performing live on silent films, such as Dziga Vertov. Man with a movie cameraa 1929 Russian film depicting a day in the life of a Soviet city, and of which he also created his own version, replacing Vertov’s footage with his own in NYman with a camera.

‘I had the chance to write an iconic theme [for The Piano]”, Nyman said recently, ”but just as being a film composer has hurt my reputation in the classical world, writing iconic film themes has hurt me as a soundtrack composer, because nobody job.’ Hopefully the story will be kinder.

The best recordings of Music by Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman
Peter Greenaway Film Music

EMI 084 7752

This theme disc of his best Greenaway scores includes ‘Memorial’ by The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover.

The piano concerto

Kathryn Stott (piano); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

MN records MNRCD115

A lovely 32-minute concerto that reworks the score of The piano.

String Quartets Nos. 1 to 3

Balanescu Quartet

Decca 473 0912

Nyman’s influences, including Schoenberg, John Bull and Romanian folk, are highlighted.

Symphony No. 11

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Kathryn Rudge

MN records MNRCD136

Nyman, a football fan himself, pays a touching tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

Artwork by Risk


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