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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.
Michael Laurence Nyman, CBE (born 23 March 1944) is a British composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist, known for the many film scores he wrote during his lengthy collaboration with the filmmaker Peter Greenaway, and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion's The Piano. His operas include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Letters, Riddles and Writs, Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs, Facing Goya, Man and Boy: Dada, Love Counts, and Sparkie: Cage and Beyond, and he has written six concerti, four string quartets, and many other chamber works, many for his Michael Nyman Band, with and without whom he tours as a performing pianist. Nyman stated that he prefers to write opera rather than other sorts of music.
Nyman was born in Stratford, London. He was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at King's College, London under Alan Bush., and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in September, 1961, and studied with Bush and Thurston Dart, focusing on piano and seventeenth-century baroque music. He won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition in July 1964.
In 1969, he provided the libretto of Harrison Birtwistle's opera Down by the Greenwood Side and directed the short film Love Love Love (based on, and identical length to, the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love") before settling into music criticism, where he is generally acknowledged to have been the first to apply the term "minimalism" to music (in a 1968 article in The Spectator magazine about the English composer Cornelius Cardew). He wrote introductions for George Frideric Handel's Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 and conducted the most important interview with George Brecht in 1976.
Nyman drew frequently on early music sources in his scores for Greenaway's films: Henry Purcell in The Draughtsman's Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (which included Memorial and Miserere Paraphrase), Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber in A Zed and Two Noughts, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Drowning by Numbers, and John Dowland in Prospero's Books, largely at the request of the director.
Nyman says he discovered his aesthetic playing the aria, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Mozart's Don Giovanni on his piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, which "dictated the dynamic, articulation and texture of everything I've subsequently done."
He has scored numerous films, the majority of them European art films, including several of those directed by Peter Greenaway. His few forays into Hollywood have been Gattaca, Ravenous (with musician Damon Albarn), and The End of the Affair. He wrote settings to various texts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for "Letters, Riddles and Writs", part of Not Mozart. He has also produced a soundtrack for the silent film Man with the Movie Camera. Nyman's popularity increased after he wrote the score to Jane Campion's award-winning 1993 film The Piano. The album became a classical music best-seller. He was nominated for both a British Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Among Nyman's other works are the opera Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1987), for soprano, alto, tenor and instrumental ensemble (based on Nyman's score for the ballet La Princesse de Milan); Ariel Songs (1990) for soprano and band; MGV (Musique à Grande Vitesse) (1993) for band and orchestra; concertos for saxophone, piano (based on The Piano score), violin, harpsichord, trombone, and saxophone & cello recorded by John Harle and Julian Lloyd Webber; the opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986), based on a case-study by Oliver Sacks; and four string quartets. In 2000, he produced a new opera on the subject of cloning on a libretto by Victoria Hardie titled Facing Goya, an expansion of their one-act opera Vital Statistics. The lead, a widowed art banker, is written for contralto and the role was first created by Hilary Summers. His newest operas are Man and Boy: Dada (2003) and Love Counts (2005), both on libretti by Michael Hastings.
He has also composed the music for the children's television series Titch which is based on the books written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins.
Many of Nyman's works are written for his own ensemble, the Michael Nyman Band, a group formed for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni's Il Campiello. Originally made up of old instruments such as rebecs and shawms alongside more modern instruments like the saxophone in order to produce as loud a sound as possible without amplification, it later switched to a fully amplified line-up of string quartet, three saxophones, trumpet, horn, bass trombone, bass guitar and piano. This line up has been variously altered and augmented for some works.
Nyman also published an influential book in 1974 on experimental music called Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (Catalan, Spanish and French translations), which explored the influence of John Cage on classical composers.
In the 1970s, Nyman was a member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia – the self-described World's Worst Orchestra – playing on their recordings and in their concerts. He was the featured pianist on the orchestra's recording of Bridge Over Troubled Water on the Martin Lewis-produced 20 Classic Rock Classics album on which the Sinfonia gave their unique interpretations of the pop and rock repertoire of the 1950s–1970s. Nyman created a similar group called Foster's Social Orchestra, which specialised in the work of Stephen Foster. One of their pieces appeared in the film Ravenous and an additional work, not used in the film, appeared on the soundtrack album.
He has also recorded pop music with the Flying Lizards; a version of his Bird List from the soundtrack to Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) appears on their album Fourth Wall as "Hands 2 Take."
On 7 July 2007 Nyman performed at Live Earth in Japan. On 2008 Nyman realised, in collaboration with the cultural association Volumina, Sublime, an artist's book that unified his music with his passion for photography.
In a collaboration with friends Max Pugh and Marc Silver, Nyman is now beginning to exhibit his films and photography. Nyman’s video works are filmed with a hand-held camera, often before and after concerts and as part of his international travels, featuring everyday moments. Some works are left relatively unedited whilst others undergo split screens and visual repetition. Soundtracks to some of the video works use location sounds, whilst others recycle existing scores from his archive or a combination of both.
In October 2009, Nyman released The Glare, a collaborative collection of songs with David McAlmont, which cast his work in a new light. The album – recorded with the Michael Nyman Band – finds McAlmont putting lyrics based on contemporary news stories to 11 pieces of Nyman music drawn from different phases of his career.
In 2012 he made a soundtrack for film Everyday
Personal life 
He was married to Aet Nyman and has two daughters, Molly and Martha. His first string quartet quotes "Unchained Melody" in homage to Aet, who appears in Greenaway's The Falls, for which he also composed music. Molly is a composer in her own right; in collaboration with Harry Escott she has written several film scores including for The Road to Guantanamo by her father's frequent collaborator, Michael Winterbottom. Martha is a development researcher for the BBC.
Career highlights 1961–67 – Studies at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College London.1968–78 – Works as music critic (becoming first person to apply the word "minimalist" to music).1976 – Founds the Campiello Band (now the Michael Nyman Band) and embarks on eleven-film collaboration with Peter Greenaway.1981 – Releases first Michael Nyman Band album.1993 – Soundtrack for The Piano wins an Ivor Novello Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and American Film Institute award and goes on to sell over three million copies.2002–2005 – Composer-in-Residence at Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe, Germany, who performed three Nyman operas and more tunes for his daughters.2007 – Performed on 7 July from Kyoto, Japan as part of the Live Earth global environmental awareness musical event.
Nyman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Nyman was awarded an honorary doctorate (DLitt) from The University of Warwick on 30 January 2007. At the ceremony The University of Warwick Brass Society and Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul McGrath, premiered a specially composed procession and recession fanfare composed by Nyman.
Works 1963 – Introduction and Allegro Concertato for Wind Quartet (lost)1963 – Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet1965 – Canzona for Flute1974 – Bell Set No. 1 (multiple metal percussion)1976 – 1–100 (4–6 pianos)1976 – (First) Waltz in D (variable)1976 – (Second) Waltz in F (variable)1977 – In Re Don Giovanni (ensemble)1978 – The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (multiple pianos)1979 – "The Masterwork" Award Winning Fish-Knife (ensemble)1980 – A Neat Slice of Time (choir)1981 – Think Slow, Act Fast (ensemble)1981 – Five Orchestral Pieces for Opus Tree (band*) (based on Anton Webern's Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10)1981 – M-Work (band)1981 – 2 Violins1982 – Four Saxes (Real Slow Drag) (saxophone quartet)1983 – A Handsome, Smooth, Sweet, Smart, Clear Stroke: Or Else Play Not At All (orchestra)1983 – Time's Up (chamber ensemble)1983 – I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump (electric violin and viola, both players also simultaneously singing)1983 – Love is Certainly, at Least Alphabetically Speaking (soprano and band)1984 – The Abbess of Andouillets (choir)1985 – Nose-List Song (soprano and orchestra) [this and the above three works are from an unfinished opera setting of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which Nyman has repeatedly cited as his all-time favourite book]1985 – Childs Play (2 violins; harpsichord)1985 – String Quartet No. 11986 – Taking a Line for a Second Walk (for orchestra (Basic Black) or piano duet)1986 – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (opera; libretto by Christopher Rawlence; adapted from the Oliver Sacks case study by Nyman, Rawlence, and Michael Morris)1986 – And Do They Do (modern dance, 1986)1987 – Vital Statistics (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)1988 – String Quartet No. 21989 – Out of the Ruins (choir)1989 – La Traversée de Paris (soprano and band)1989 – The Fall of Icarus (band)1989 – L'Orgie Parisienne Arthur Rimbaud setting (soprano or mezzo soprano and orchestra)1989 – La Sept (band)1990 – Shaping the Curve (soprano saxophone, string quartet or piano)1990 – Six Celan Songs (contralto and orchestra)1990 – Polish Love Song (soprano and piano)1990 – String Quartet No. 31990 – The Kiss and Other Movements1991 – The Michael Nyman Songbook A collection of songs based on texts by Paul Celan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, William Shakespeare, and Arthur Rimbaud and recorded with vocalist Ute Lemper.1991 – Where the Bee Dances (soprano saxophone and orchestra)1991 – Fluegelhorn and Piano1992 – Time Will Pronounce (violin, cello, and piano)1992 – For John Cage (brass ensemble)1992 – Self-Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence (alto and string orchestra or countertenor and viol consort)1992 – The Convertibility of Lute Strings (solo harpsichord)1992 – Anne de Lucy Songs (soprano and piano)1992 – Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser's Husband)1992 – The Upside-Down Violin (orchestra/ensemble)1993 – MGV: Musique à grande vitesse (band and orchestra)1993 – The Piano Concerto (piano and orchestra)1993 – Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1993; opera-ballet setting William Shakespeare's The Tempest)1993 – Yamamoto Perpetuo (violin solo)1993 – Songs for Tony (saxophone quartet)1994 – To Morrow (soprano or soprano saxophone, organ)1994 – 3 Quartets (ensemble)1994 – Concerto for Trombone (trombone, orchestra, and steel filing cabinets)1995 – String Quartet No. 41995 – Tango for Tim (In memoriam Tim Suster) (harpsichord)1995 – The Waltz Song (unison voices)1995 – Viola and Piano1995 – Grounded (mezzo-soprano, saxophones, violin, piano)1995 – HRT [High Rise Terminal] (chamber ensemble)1995 – Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings1995 – Double Concerto for Saxophone and Cello (saxophone, cello, and orchestra)1996 – After Extra Time (ensemble)1996 – Enemy Zero (game music)1996 – The Ogre1997 – Enemy Zero – Original Soundtrack1997 – Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks (orchestra)1997 – The Promise (piano)1997 – Gattaca1998 – Titch (worked on the main opening/closing piano theme).1998 – Cycle of Disquietude (Coisas, Vozes, Lettras) (soprano, mezzo-soprano, and band)1998 – Orfeu (band)1998 – De Granada A La Luna (band)1999 – The Commissar Vanishes (band)1999 – The End of the Affair2000 – Facing Goya (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)2001 – a dance he little thinks of (orchestra)2003 – Violin Concerto (violin and orchestra)2003 – Man and Boy: Dada (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)2005 – Love Counts (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)2006 – gdm for Marimba and Orchestra (concerto)2006 – Acts of Beauty' (song cycle)2007 – A Handshake in the Dark (choral piece with orchestra; text by Jamal Jumá [world premiere 8 March 2007, Barbican, London, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, John Storgards conducting])2007 – Interlude in C (expansion of a theme from The Libertine for Accent07 touring ensemble)2007 – Eight Lust Songs song cycle2008 – Yamamoto Perpetuo for Solo Flute (arranged by Andy Findon)2009 – Sparkie: Cage and Beyond opera with Carsten Nicolai2009 – The Musicologist Scores (band)2010 – 2Graves2010 – Vertov Sounds
*originally recorded by Nyman, Ned Sublette, Susan Krongold, Barbara Benary, Jon Gibson, Richard Cohen, Virgil Blackwell, Peter Zummo, and Peter Gordon at The Kitchen, and intended for Peter Greenaway's short film, The Tree.