Michael Nyman

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This article is about the composer/musician Michael Nyman. For his eponymous album, see Michael Nyman (1981 album).
Nyman in 2010

Michael Laurence Nyman, CBE (born 23 March 1944) is an English 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.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Nyman was born in Stratford, London to a family of secular Jewish furriers.[2][3]

Nyman was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at King's College London under Alan Bush[4] and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in September 1961, studying with Bush and Thurston Dart,[5] focusing on piano and seventeenth-century baroque music. He won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition in July 1964.[6] In 1965–66 Nyman secured a residency in Romania, to study folk-song, supported by a British Council bursary.[7]

Career[edit]

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."[8]

In 1969, Nyman 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"[7]) 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.

He has scored numerous films, the majority of them European art films, including several of those directed by Peter Greenaway. 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 Biber in A Zed & Two Noughts, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Drowning by Numbers, and John Dowland in Prospero's Books, largely at the request of the director.[citation needed] He wrote settings to various texts by Mozart for Letters, Riddles and Writs, part of Not Mozart. He has also produced a soundtrack for the silent film Man with a 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.

Nyman at the 2009 Venice Film Festival

His few forays into Hollywood have been Gattaca, Ravenous (with musician Damon Albarn), and The End of the Affair.

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.

From the Gattaca soundtrack by Michael Nyman

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He has also composed the music for the children's television series Titch[9] 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 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, 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.[original research?] 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. Keith H. Yoo in 2012 commissioned Nyman to write a 26 minutes long piano quintet in four movements titled Through the Only Window. It premiered at the gala dinner for his father Yoo Byung-eun's photographic exhibition "Through My Window" in the Tuileries Garden of The Louvre in Paris on 25 June 2012. The work has been recorded by Nyman Quintet in the Abbey Road Studios, and has been released on Nyman's record label.[10][11][12] In 2013 Nyman was again commissioned to compose a piece for Yoo Byung-eun's exhibition in the Orangerie Hall of the Palace of Versailles, and wrote the 32 minutes long symphony in four movements, Symphony No. 6 "AHAE", representing the four seasons in nature as depicted by Ahae, a pseudonym for Yoo Byung-eun. The London Symphony Orchestra premiered both pieces at L'Opéra of the Palace of Versailles in Paris on 8 September 2013 under the baton of the composer.[13] It has been recorded for a planned future release.[14][15][16]

Personal life[edit]

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.

Nyman is a supporter of Queen's Park Rangers Football Club.[17]

Career highlights[edit]

  • 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.

Honours[edit]

Nyman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[18]

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.[19]

Works[edit]

Nyman's music re-used[edit]

  • Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" (from The Piano) is the music on which Italian rock noir band Belladonna's song "Let There Be Light" is based. Released in December 2010, the track features Michael Nyman himself on piano.[21]
  • Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" (from The Piano) was used as backing music for one of the bank advertisements for Lloyds TSB broadcast on television. It has also been featured in episodes of 20/20.
  • Music from Ravenous has been used at least once on WFYI's Across Indiana, in a segment titled "On the Trail of John Hunt Morgan", produced by Scott Andrew Hutchins.
  • Nyman's soundtrack for Carrington is mostly based on his own String Quartet No. 3.
  • A Cock and Bull Story contains music from The Draughtsman's Contract, as well as Nyman's arrangements of classical music used in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (it does not use any music from Nyman's Tristram Shandy opera).
  • Nyman's music for Peter Greenaway's films has been used in the Japanese television program Iron Chef.
  • Popular "Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds" (from The Draughtsman's Contract) constituted the main theme of Spanish TV program Queremos Saber, presented by Mercedes Milà in the nineties. In 2013, it was sampled in the Pet Shop Boys single "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct", produced by Stuart Price.
  • Nyman features in '9 Songs' (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) playing at the Hackney Empire on his 60th birthday.
  • Nyman's MGV: Musique à grande vitesse was used in November 2006 for a new one-act ballet for the Royal Ballet in London, DGV (danse à grande vitesse) by Christopher Wheeldon.
  • Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" was covered by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. Nyman had refused to release the song initially; the band was later granted permission and the song was released in 29 February 2012 as part of the single The Crow, the Owl and the Dove from their album Imaginaerum.
  • Time Lapse was used in Sky's 2008 'Heroes' advert
  • Selections from Nyman's catalogue formed part of the soundtrack for James Marsh's 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, a film about Philippe Petit, a Frenchman, who in 1974 illegally strung a tightrope between the top of the WTC buildings and danced between them for 45 minutes, thus committing the "artistic crime of the 20th century".
  • Nyman's piece "Car Crash" from A Zed & Two Noughts was used for once on the final episode of a Greek series called 'To Kafe Tis Xaras'

Select discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Michael Nyman - Interview by John Leeman- December 2005 MusicWeb-International". Musicweb-international.com. 2005-11-07. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  2. ^ Pwyll ap Siôn. (2007.) The Music of Michael Nyman: Texts, Contexts and Intertexts, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham.
  3. ^ Anstead, Mark (8 May 2011). "Michael Nyman on fame and fortune". The Telegraph. 
  4. ^ "Michael Nyman Biography - ARTISTdirect Music". Artistdirect.com. 1944-03-23. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  5. ^ "On the road with Michael Nyman". Limelightmagazine.com.au. 2011-05-17. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  6. ^ Siôn, 18
  7. ^ a b Pwyll ap Siôn The Music of Michael Nyman. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. p. 83
  8. ^ Andrew Ford. "Jerry Lee Lewis Plays Mozart." Composer to Composer London: Quartet Books, 1993. pp 192–195, p 194
  9. ^ "Music - Soundtracks - Titch". Michael Nyman. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  10. ^ "Michael Nyman: Through The Only Window — String Quartet & Piano (Score/Parts) - String Quartet/Piano Chamber Score and Parts — Sheet Music & Songbooks". Musicroom.com. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  11. ^ "Music Sales Group — The Music Sales Catalogue". Musicsales.com. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  12. ^ "Michael Nyman Through The Only Window (Music CD) - by Ahae Products". Ahaeproducts.com. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  13. ^ Alberge, Dalya (23 June 2013). "Rich Korean recluse hires the LSO to blow his trumpet". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2014-06-01. 
  14. ^ "News — Nyman Symphony No 6 premiere". Music Sales Classical. 6 September 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  15. ^ The Music Sales Group. "Michael Nyman Symphony No. 6 "AHAE" Premier". The Music Sales Group. Retrieved 2014-05-22. 
  16. ^ "Biographie En". Nicolasbacri.net. Retrieved 2014-05-31. 
  17. ^ Michael Nyman, "Composing the QPR suite", The Guardian, 21 October 2005
  18. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58729. p. 8. 14 June 2008.
  19. ^ "Honorary Degrees for Sir Antony Sher, Michael Nyman and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys". .warwick.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "Press Coverage". Michael Nyman. Retrieved 2014-08-10. 

External links[edit]

Listening[edit]