Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman

born on 23/3/1944 in London, England, United Kingdom

Michael Nyman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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

Nyman was born in Stratford, London. He was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at King's College London under Alan Bush[2] and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in September 1961, studying with Bush and Thurston Dart,[3] focusing on piano and seventeenth-century baroque music. He won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition in July 1964.[4] In 196566 Nyman secured a residency in Romania, to study folk-song, supported by a British Council bursary.[5]


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."[6]

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"[5]) 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 von Biber in A Zed and Two Noughts, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Drowning by Numbers, and John Dowland in Prospero's Books, largely at the request of the director. He wrote settings to various texts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for "Letters, Riddles and Writs", part of Not Mozart. He has also produced a soundtrack for the silent film Man with the 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.

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.

He has also composed the music for the children's television series Titch[7] 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 (Catalan, Spanish and French translations), 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 1950s1970s. 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. 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.

Personal life

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.[8]

Career highlights

  • 196167 Studies at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College London.
  • 196878 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.


Nyman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[9]

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.[10]


  • 1963 Introduction and Allegro Concertato for Wind Quartet (lost)
  • 1963 Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet
  • 1965 Canzona for Flute
  • 1974 Bell Set No. 1 (multiple metal percussion)
  • 1976 1100 (46 pianos)
  • 1976 (First) Waltz in D (variable)
  • 1976 (Second) Waltz in F (variable)
  • 1977 In Re Don Giovanni (ensemble)
  • 1978 The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (multiple pianos)
  • 1979 "The Masterwork" Award Winning Fish-Knife (ensemble)
  • 1980 A Neat Slice of Time (choir)
  • 1981 Think Slow, Act Fast (ensemble)
  • 1981 Five Orchestral Pieces for Opus Tree (band)[11] (based on Anton Webern's Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10)
  • 1981 M-Work (band)
  • 1981 2 Violins
  • 1982 Four Saxes (Real Slow Drag) (saxophone quartet)
  • 1983 A Handsome, Smooth, Sweet, Smart, Clear Stroke: Or Else Play Not At All (orchestra)
  • 1983 Time's Up (chamber ensemble)
  • 1983 I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump (electric violin and viola, both players also simultaneously singing)
  • 1983 Love is Certainly, at Least Alphabetically Speaking (soprano and band)
  • 1984 The Abbess of Andouillets (choir)
  • 1985 Nose-List Song (soprano and orchestra) [this and the above three works are from an unfinished opera setting of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which Nyman has repeatedly cited as his all-time favourite book]
  • 1985 Childs Play (2 violins; harpsichord)
  • 1985 String Quartet No. 1
  • 1986 Taking a Line for a Second Walk (for orchestra (Basic Black) or piano duet)
  • 1986 The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (opera; libretto by Christopher Rawlence; adapted from the Oliver Sacks case study by Nyman, Rawlence, and Michael Morris)
  • 1986 And Do They Do (modern dance, 1986)
  • 1987 Vital Statistics (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)
  • 1988 String Quartet No. 2
  • 1989 Out of the Ruins (choir)
  • 1989 La Traversée de Paris (soprano and band)
  • 1989 The Fall of Icarus (band)
  • 1989 L'Orgie Parisienne Arthur Rimbaud setting (soprano or mezzo soprano and orchestra)
  • 1989 La Sept (band)
  • 1990 Shaping the Curve (soprano saxophone, string quartet or piano)
  • 1990 Six Celan Songs (contralto and orchestra)
  • 1990 Polish Love Song (soprano and piano or two clarinets, viola, cello and bass)
  • 1990 String Quartet No. 3
  • 1990 The Kiss and Other Movements
  • 1991 The Michael Nyman Songbook A collection of songs based on texts by Paul Celan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, William Shakespeare, and Arthur Rimbaud and recorded with vocalist Ute Lemper.
  • 1991 Where the Bee Dances (soprano saxophone and orchestra)
  • 1991 Fluegelhorn and Piano
  • 1992 Time Will Pronounce (violin, cello, and piano)
  • 1992 For John Cage (brass ensemble)
  • 1992 Self-Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence (alto and string orchestra or countertenor and viol consort)
  • 1992 The Convertibility of Lute Strings (solo harpsichord)
  • 1992 Anne de Lucy Songs (soprano and piano)
  • 1992 Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser's Husband)
  • 1992 The Upside-Down Violin (orchestra/ensemble)
  • 1993 MGV: Musique à grande vitesse (band and orchestra)
  • 1993 The Piano Concerto (piano and orchestra)
  • 1993 Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1993; opera-ballet setting William Shakespeare's The Tempest)
  • 1993 Yamamoto Perpetuo (violin solo)
  • 1993 Songs for Tony (saxophone quartet)
  • 1994 To Morrow (soprano or soprano saxophone, organ)
  • 1994 3 Quartets (ensemble)
  • 1994 Concerto for Trombone (trombone, orchestra, and steel filing cabinets)
  • 1995 String Quartet No. 4
  • 1995 Tango for Tim (In memoriam Tim Suster) (harpsichord)
  • 1995 The Waltz Song (unison voices)
  • 1995 Viola and Piano
  • 1995 Grounded (mezzo-soprano, saxophones, violin, piano)
  • 1995 HRT [High Rise Terminal] (chamber ensemble)
  • 1995 Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings
  • 1995 Double Concerto for Saxophone and Cello (saxophone, cello, and orchestra)
  • 1996 After Extra Time (ensemble)
  • 1996 Enemy Zero (game music)
  • 1996 The Ogre
  • 1997 Enemy Zero Original Soundtrack
  • 1997 Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks (orchestra)
  • 1997 The Promise (piano)
  • 1997 Gattaca
  • 1998 Titch (worked on the main opening/closing piano theme).
  • 1998 Cycle of Disquietude (Coisas, Vozes, Lettras) (soprano, mezzo-soprano, and band)
  • 1998 Orfeu (band)
  • 1998 De Granada A La Luna (band)
  • 1999 The Commissar Vanishes (band)
  • 1999 The End of the Affair
  • 2000 Facing Goya (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)
  • 2001 a dance he little thinks of (orchestra)
  • 2003 Violin Concerto (violin and orchestra)
  • 2003 Man and Boy: Dada (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
  • 2005 Love Counts (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
  • 2006 gdm for Marimba and Orchestra (concerto)
  • 2006 Acts of Beauty' (song cycle)
  • 2007 A Handshake in the Dark (choral piece with orchestra; text by Jamal Jumá [world premiere 8 March 2007, Barbican, London, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, John Storgards conducting])
  • 2007 Interlude in C (expansion of a theme from The Libertine for Accent07 touring ensemble)
  • 2007 Eight Lust Songs song cycle
  • 2008 Yamamoto Perpetuo for Solo Flute (arranged by Andy Findon)
  • 2009 Sparkie: Cage and Beyond opera with Carsten Nicolai
  • 2009 The Musicologist Scores (band)
  • 2010 2Graves
  • 2010 Vertov Sounds

Nyman's music re-used

  • 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.[12]
  • 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. It was also used in the British comedy film "A Cock and Bull Story", starring Steve Coogan. 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'
  • Nyman's piece "Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds" is sampled on the Pet Shop Boys single "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct".

Select discography

Studio albums

  • Decay Music (Obscure, 1976)
  • Michael Nyman (Piano, 1981)
  • The Draughtsman's Contract (Charisma, 1982)
  • The Kiss and Other Movements (Editions EG, 1985)
  • A Zed & Two Noughts (That's Entertainment, 1985)
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (CBS, 1987)
  • Drowning by Numbers (Venture, 1988)
  • La Traversée de Paris (Criterion, 1989)
  • The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Venture, 1989)
  • String Quartets 13 (Argo, 1991)
  • Prospero's Books (Decca, 1991)
  • The Michael Nyman Songbook (Decca, 1992)
  • Time Will Pronounce (Argo, 1993)
  • The Piano (Venture, 1993)
  • The Piano Concerto/MGV (Argo, 1994)
  • Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (Argo, 1995)
  • After Extra Time (Venture, 1996)
  • Concertos (EMI, 1997)
  • The Suit and the Photograph (EMI, 1998)
  • Facing Goya (Warner, 2002)
  • Sangam: Michael Nyman Meets Indian Masters (Warner, 2003)
  • Man and Boy: Dada (MN, 2005)
  • Acts of Beauty/Exit no Exit (MN, 2006)
  • Love Counts (MN, 2007)
  • 8 Lust Songs: I Sonetti Lussuriosi (MN, 2008)


  1. Michael Nyman talks to John Leeman about his opera Man and Boy: Dada
  2. Michael Nyman Biography ARTISTdirect Music
  3. http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/257663,on-the-road-with-michael-nyman.aspx
  4. Siôn, 18
  5. 5.0 5.1 Pwyll ap Siôn The Music of Michael Nyman. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. p. 83
  6. Andrew Ford. "Jerry Lee Lewis Plays Mozart." Composer to Composer London: Quartet Books, 1993. pp 192195, p 194
  7. http://www.michaelnyman.com/music/soundtracks/show/titch
  8. Michael Nyman, "Composing the QPR suite", The Guardian, 21 October 2005
  9. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58729, p. 8, 14 June 2008.
  10. Honorary Degrees for Sir Antony Sher, Michael Nyman and Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys
  11. 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.
  12. Michael Nyman Press Coverage

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Michael Nyman

  • Michael Nyman official site
  • Michael Nyman's homepage at Chester Music
  • Michael Nyman at the Internet Movie Database
  • Michael Nyman at the BFI's Screenonline
  • The Power of the Cadence: Michael Nyman in conversation with Robert Davidson
  • 'The Case Against Nyman Revisited' Recent article on Michael Nyman's use of pre-existing music
  • Michael Nyman à grande vitesse, review article in The Oxonian Review
  • Michael Nyman judged The Film of the Month competition in June 2009 on the independent filmmakers networking site Shooting People
  • An Evening with Michael Nyman, BAFTA event video


  • Michael Nyman audio at Internet Archive
This page was last modified 17.05.2014 05:59:17

This article uses material from the article Michael Nyman from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.