Happy birthday Steve Reich

American minimalist composer Steve Reich was born on 3 Oct 1936 and he turns 75 today. He is one of America’s best known and most celebrated contemporary composers. He has received worldwide critical acclaim and won many awards including the Pulitzer prize for music and Grammy Awards for his works Different Trains and Piece for 18 musicians.

His musical interests are wide, and he has trained in African drumming and religious chant, as well as having a strong interest in jazz and a degree in philosophy.

Minimalist music often involves short, repeating melodic figures, a technique it shares with psychedelic rock, which Britannica describes as using ” repetitive structures and droning techniques to express the hallucinations of LSD and other drugs in a musical language”. Velvet Underground is often offered as an example. Reich achieves this same effect by using techniques such as tape loops that are slightly out of phase, sometimes using the spoken human voice as an instrument.

He is keen to abolish the divide between popular and classical music, which he sees as an artificial development and for which he points the finger at Schoenberg. According to critic Alex Ross (author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century) he has succeeded:

“Reich’s influence is vast, reaching far outside classical composition to encompass jazz, rock, pop, electronic music, and hip-hop.

Brian Eno and David Bowie for example, are said to have been big fans of Piece for 18 musicians when it came out. Ross also suggests Piece for 18 musicians as one of five modern classical pieces for pop listeners so why not give it a try?

2 thoughts on “Happy birthday Steve Reich

  1. Laraine 3 October 2011 / 3:42 pm

    When, in the early sixties, aged 17, I decided to teach myself appreciation of Classical music, I never did manage to get on with 20th century music. I hate to think what I would have made of 21st century music (of which I hear plenty on the radio). I bought all sorts of music–not just Beethoven’s symphonies and concertos, for instance, but also his string quartets, piano sonatas, violin sonatas, etc. One of my earliest purchases was of Bach’s Musical Offering (as recorded by Menuhin and members of the Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra). I actually landed up not being interested in anything much after Beethoven. But at the time I didn’t know what my tastes were going to be. I remember buying Menuhin’s version of the Bloch violin concerto and playing it one movement at a time, over and over, determined to come to grips with at least one contemporary musical work. Eventually I decided, “Well, I can follow it. But I still don’t like it!”

    I also remember buying a book called “The Agony of Modern Music” by Henry Pleasants and finding myself agreeing with just about everything he wrote. I still have the book. I don’t know whether Pleasants lived to hear anything from the minimalists, but I’ve heard more than enough to last me a lifetime. It makes me feel the composer is determined to send me insane before the end of the first movement. I figure such music would be a great asset to any sadist’s torture chamber.

  2. cloudy5 5 October 2011 / 5:26 pm

    I hadn’t listened to this composer since the 1980’s but remembered how much I loved his original melodies and hypnotic sound. I clicked on the Naxos link, logged in with my library card and was immediately transported back to the mid 1970’s, listening to ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ on my Dad’s cassette stereo. (I shed a tear for Mum and Dad now deceased.) The music is timeless, amazing, evocative and imaginative. It also reminds me of the film ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ with music by Philip Glass, a must-see for any movie buff.

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