a class act
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It’s more than possible that some of you have reached this particular page at TotalMusic-Online because you have read everything else and are mildly curious to discover what some old bald bloke is doing here (no, not Eric Clapton, he’s elsewhere). If this is so, then WAKE YOUR BLOODY IDEAS UP!! There is far more wondrous music under the sun than that pumped out by MTV and on the radio, and contrary to popular opinion, classical composition didn’t grind to a halt after Mozart kicked the bucket (see Debussy, Schoenberg, Boulez, Stockhausen, etc.)

Born in London on 23 March 1944,Michael Nyman studied at the London Academy Of Music and Kings College, but disaffected with the then current orthodoxies, abandoned composition in 1964 and spent time working as a music critic for several magazines including The Spectator (those interested in this stage of his career could do worse than seek out his book Experimental Music – Cage and Beyond); in fact, it is believed he was the first person to use the word ‘Minimalism’ in relation to music. It was only after hearing Steve Reich’s ‘Come Out’ that Nyman’s compositional muse was resuscitated and, in 1968, he wrote the libretto for Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Down By The Greenwood Side’, prompting Birtwistle to commission him to provide arrangements of 18th century Venetian songs for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni's Il ‘Campiello’, for which Nyman created the Campiello Band, a group he would later describe as “the loudest unamplified street band”– the line-up included rebecs, sackbuts and shawms alongside banjo, bass drum and saxophone. Adding his piano to the band (and changing the outfit’s name to The Michael Nyman Band), he then began formulating the compositional style for which he would become famous, utilising strong melodies, unusual rhythms, and tight, precise, ensemble playing.

Lee PerryTo the majority of people, of course, Michael Nyman is probably best known for his film scores, most notably the music he created for Jane Campion’s award-winning 1993 movie The Piano, which led to him receiving the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Original Music, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, and won the first-ever Chicago Film Critics Award for Best Musical Score. Then here are the propulsive scores he composed for writer/director Peter Greenaway, including The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), Drowning By Numbers (1988), The Cook,The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), and Prospero’s Books (1991).Unfortunately, the two men subsequently parted company after Nyman discovered his original score for Prospero’s Books had been overlaid with what he referred to as “awful phoney electronic music”. But this is only part of the story as he has also provided music for a fashion show (a piece called ‘Yamamoto Perpetuo’ for designer Yohji Yamamoto, in 1993), for the opening of a high-speed rail link (MGV in 1993) and even a computer game (‘Enemy Zero’, in 1996). His work in the latter stages of the ‘90s includes scores for Gattaca (1998) and Wonderland (1999), and, proving how easily he moves between the different musical genres, a collaboration with Blur singer Damon Albarn on the soundtrack to Ravenous (also 1999).

Showing little sign of slowing down in the 21st century, he then began unveiling a whole raft of new works, including two operas – ‘Facing Goya’ and ‘Man And Boy: Dada’, an opera based on Kurt Schwitters’ search for the perfect London bus ticket. There was also a recording by Gidon Kremer of Nyman’s ‘Violin Concerto’, a festival showcasing all his string quartet pieces and a performance by Angelika Kirschlager of ‘6 Celan Songs’. He is also currently working on the soundtrack to The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (starring Sean Penn) and The Libertine (starring Johnny Depp). Throughout his remarkable career Nyman has proved to be an open-minded and eminently practical composer, with a wry sense of humour and a willingness to collaborate. Although he has never really received the acclaim his work deserves – for example, is it fair that John Williams’s undoubtedly fine career has resulted in a trophy case positively groaning under the weight of all his awards, while Nyman’s often far more fascinating output has resulted in barely enough to hold open the loo door? – Michael Nyman continues to create fascinating, engaging and moving soundscapes. He is a true musical pioneer.

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