Minimalist music

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Minimalist music is a genre of post-1960s classical music and experimental music which displays some or all of the following features:

The term minimalist music is derived from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier applied to the visual arts.


Brief history

The word "minimalism" was first used in relation to music in 1968 by Michael Nyman in a review of Cornelius Cardew's piece The Great Digest. Nyman later expanded his definition of minimalism in music in his 1974 book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Tom Johnson, one of the few composers to self-identify as minimalist, also claims to have been first to use the word as new music critic for the Village Voice. He describes "minimalism" (1989, p. 5):

"The idea of minimalism is much larger than most people realize. It includes, by definition, any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whisky glasses. It includes pieces that sustain one basic electronic rumble for a long time. It includes pieces made exclusively from recordings of rivers and streams. It includes pieces that move in endless circles. It includes pieces that set up an unmoving wall of saxophone sound. It includes pieces that take a very long time to move gradually from one kind of music to another kind. It includes pieces that permit all possible pitches, as long as they fall between C and D. It includes pieces that slow the tempo down to two or three notes per minute."

Many people, especially popular music fans, find minimalist music less difficult music to listen to than serialism and other avant-garde classical music. For some, especially romantic and earlier music fans, it is easy music to find annoying, due to the repetition, perceived lack of complexity, or rigidity of process music. The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley; while the less well known La Monte Young is generally credited as the "father" of minimalism.

There is much variety in the music called minimal, in every regard from instrumentation to structure to technique. The early compositions of Glass and Reich tended to be very austere, with little embellishment on the principal theme, and written for small instrumental ensembles (of which the composers were members), made up, in Glass' case, of organs, winds--particularly saxophones--and vocalists, in Reich's case with more emphasis on mallet and percussion instruments. (These works would be scored for any combination of such instruments: one piece by Reich, the aptly named Six Pianos, is scored just so.) Adams' works have most often been written for more traditional classical forces: orchestra, string quartet, even solo piano. (Though all four major minimalists have written symphonies and quartets etc, none have written them so exclusively as Adams.) His works tend also to be much more approachable for the classical ear; there is a minimalist core to his work, but there is also a more traditional philosophy and stylistic diversity behind his compositions, and a phrase in an Adams work is less likely to stay unchanged and in the same instrument(s) for a long time than in would be in another minimalist's work. Some of Adams' orchestral works have been described as " maximalist", although this is not a word that would be widely recognized by reviewers (serialist Charles Wuorinen self-identifies as a maximalist).

David Cope (1997) lists the following qualities:

It should be noted that the minimalist movement in music bears only an occasional relationship to the movement of the same name in visual art. This connection is probably one reason why many minimalist composers dislike the term. Philip Glass, whose group initially performed at art galleries where his minimalist visual artist friends were showing, reportedly said of minimalism, "That word should be stamped out!"

Minimalist composers

Early minimalists include:

Other more current minimalists include:

A number of composers showing a distinctly religious influence have been labeled the "mystic minimalists":

Other composers who have been described as minimalists include:

  • Alvin Lucier, whose acoustical experiments demand a stripped-down musical surface to bring out details in the phenomena
  • Morton Feldman, whose works prominently feature some sort of repetition as well as a sparseness
  • Erik Satie, seen as a prefigure of minimalism as in much of his music, for example his score for Francis Picabia's film Entr'acte which consists of phrases, many borrowed from bawdy popular songs, ordered seemingly arbitrarily and repetisiously, providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the film.

See also


  • Cope, David (1997). Techniques of the Contemporary Composer, p.216. New York, New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0028647378.
  • Johnson, Tom (1989). The Voice of New Music: New York City 1972-1982 a collection of articles originally published by the Village Voice. Het Apollohuis. ISBN 907163809X. Available for free download at: [1] (

External links

de:Minimal Music nl:Minimal music ja:ミニマル・ミュージック


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