Writings on Music, 1965-2000

Writings on Music, 1965-2000

Writings on Music, 1965-2000

Writings on Music, 1965-2000


In the mid-1960s, Steve Reich radically renewed the musical landscape with a back-to-basics sound that came to be called Minimalism. These early works, characterized by a relentless pulse and static harmony, focused single-mindedly on the process of gradual rhythmic change. Throughout his career, Reich has continued to reinvigorate the music world, drawing from a wide array of classical, popular, sacred, and non-western idioms. His works reflect the steady evolution of an original musical mind. Writings on Music documents the creative journey of this thoughtful, groundbreaking composer. These 64 short pieces include Reich's 1968 essay "Music as a Gradual Process," widely considered one of the most influential pieces of music theory in the second half of the 20th century. Subsequent essays, articles, and interviews treat Reich's early work with tape and phase shifting, showing its development into more recent work with speech melody and instrumental music. Other essays recount his exposure to non-western music -- African drumming, Balinese gamelan, Hebrew cantillation -- and the influence of these musics as structures and not as sounds. The writings include Reich's reactions to and appreciations of the works of his contemporaries (John Cage, Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Ligeti) and older influences (Kurt Weill, Schoenberg). Each major work of the composer's career is also explored through notes written for performances and recordings. Paul Hillier, himself a respected figure in the early music and new music worlds, has revisited these texts, working with the author to clarify their central narrative: the aesthetic and intellectual development of an influential composer. For long-time listeners and young musicians recently introduced to his work, this book provides an opportunity to get to know Reich's music in greater depth and perspective.


In the music of Steve Reich, we encounter one of the most radical renewals of musical language in recent times. Beginning in the mid-1960s with an austerely reductive minimalism, Reich gradually built up a richly nuanced yet instantly recognizable sound, which has influenced a number of contemporary and younger composers without being directly imitated. Although the core of this sound was well established by the mid-1970s, it has continued to evolve and is still in the process of change and development.

But Reich is no revolutionary. His own influences lie all around us and are easily identified—Bartok, Stravinsky, Weill, postwar jazz (especially John Coltrane), African drumming, the Balinese gamelan, Perotin. Like many successful American composers, Reich has built a language that fuses the heightened discourse of serious music with strong elements of the vernacular. His particular strength lies in having done so in a style that is uniquely and recognizably his own. Reich's works constitute a steady evolution of style and technique, and take their own rightful place in the history of modern music, although at no point do they offer that shock to the system, that affront to normality, which we habitually associate with the new when it is “avant-garde”—except, that is, for a brief period of time in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In works such as It's Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966), Piano Phase and Violin Phase (1967), and Four Organs (1970), with their rigorous focus on

All quotes in this introduction, unless otherwise acknowledged, are taken from Restagno, 1994, an English typescript of the original interviews (with Enzo Restagno in New York, January 1994) having been given to me for this purpose by the composer. Here and elsewhere in the book small modifications and corrections to previously published material have been made, in consultation with the composer, without further acknowledgment.

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