Music for 18 Musicians

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Music for 18 Musicians
The cover of the first recording, released by ECM
Studio album by
Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideA−[2]
Classical Net(favorable)[3]
The Guardian[4]
Rolling Stone(favorable)[8]

Music for 18 Musicians is a work of minimalist music composed by Steve Reich during 1974–1976. Its world premiere was on April 24, 1976, at The Town Hall in New York City. Following this, a recording of the piece was released by ECM New Series in 1978.


In his introduction to the score, Reich mentions that although the piece is named Music for 18 Musicians, it is not necessarily advisable to perform the piece with that few players due to the extensive need for musicians to perform on multiple instruments.

The piece is based on a cycle of eleven chords. A small piece of music is based on each chord, and the piece returns to the original cycle at the end. The sections are named "Pulses", and Section I-XI. This was Reich's first attempt at writing for larger ensembles, and the extension of performers resulted in a growth of psychoacoustic effects, which fascinated Reich, and he noted that he would like to "explore this idea further". A prominent factor in this work is the augmentation of the harmonies and melodies and the way that they develop this piece. Another important factor in the piece is the use of human breath, used in the clarinets and voices, which help structure and bring a pulse to the piece. The player plays the pulsing note for as long as they can hold it, while each chord is melodically deconstructed by the ensemble, along with augmentation of the notes held. The metallophone (unplugged vibraphone), is used to cue the ensemble to change patterns or sections.

Some sections of the piece have a chiastic ABCDCBA structure, and Reich noted that this one work contained more harmonic movement in the first five minutes than any other work he had previously written.


In a review of the 1978 release, AllMusic wrote that "when this recording was released in 1978, the impact on the new music scene was immediate and overwhelming. Anyone who saw potential in minimalism and had hoped for a major breakthrough piece found it here. The beauty of its pulsing added-note harmonies and the sustained power and precision of the performance were the music's salient features; and instead of the sterile, electronic sound usually associated with minimalism, the music's warm resonance was a welcome change."[1] Reviewing the 1978 LP in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau wrote of Music for 18 Musicians: "In which pulsing modules of high-register acoustic sound—the ensemble comprises violin, cello, clarinet, piano, marimbas, xylophone, metallophone, and women's voices—evolve harmonically toward themselves. Very mathematical, yet also very, well, organic—the duration of particular note-pulses is determined by the natural breath rhythms of the musicians—this sounds great in the evening near the sea."[2] Critic Edward Strickland argues that Music for 18 Musicians is "the high point of ensemble music of the 1970s by composers identified as Minimalist".[9] Ottó Károlyi identifies diverse influences including jazz and Balinese musical forms and notes that the piece's vocals feature organum and conductus.[10]

In 2003, David Bowie included it in a list of 25 of his favourite albums, "Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie", calling it "Balinese gamelan music cross-dressing as minimalism".[11]


There have been many performances of the piece, and several commercial recordings:

The version on Works 1965–1995 lasts just over an hour.


With only 18 musicians, the parts are divided as follows:

  1. Violin
  2. Cello
  3. Female voice
  4. Female voice
  5. Female voice
  6. Piano
  7. Piano
  8. Piano and maracas
  9. Marimba and maracas
  10. Marimba and xylophone
  11. Marimba and xylophone
  12. Marimba and xylophone
  13. Metallophone and piano
  14. Piano and marimba
  15. Marimba, xylophone, and piano
  16. Clarinet and bass clarinet
  17. Clarinet and bass clarinet
  18. Female voice and piano


The remix album Reich Remixed includes an interpretation of Music for 18 Musicians by the British duo Coldcut.[18]


  1. ^ a b AllMusic
  2. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: R". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 10, 2019 – via
  3. ^ "Basic Repertoire List - Reich". Classical Net. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  4. ^ Clements, Andrew (21 May 2015). "Reich: Music for 18 Musicians CD review – tremendous, unstoppable energy". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  5. ^ Walls, Seth (1 October 2016). "Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  6. ^ PopMatters
  7. ^ Sputnikmusic
  8. ^ Rolling Stone, 18 April 1979, Steve Reich and Phillip Glass find a new way
  9. ^ Strickland, Edward (1993). Minimalism: Origins. Indiana University Press. p. 233. ISBN 0-253-35499-4. OCLC 27640557.
  10. ^ Károlyi, Ottó (1996). Modern American Music: From Charles Ives to the Minimalists. Cygnus Arts. p. 106. ISBN 0-7567-7484-5. OCLC 948218748.
  11. ^ "David Bowie's Favorite Albums". Vanity Fair. 20 November 2003.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Music for 18 Musicians CD Press Quotes
  15. ^ "Rough Fields". burning ambulance. 18 May 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2020.
  16. ^ Review of Harmonia Mundi version
  17. ^ "Erik Hall: Music for 18 Musicians". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  18. ^ Shatz, Adam (14 March 1999). "Revisiting Steve Reich For the Dance Floor". The New York Times.

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