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Avantgarde Music. Michael Nyman: biography, discography, reviews, links

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"The elegant pulsing scores of Michael Nyman (Britain, 1944), such as Water Dances (1985),Memorial (1985) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1987), were a post-modernist version of Renaissance music. The orchestral miniatures of the film soundtrack A Zed And Two Naughts (1989) capitalized on retro-catchy melodies and tempos that mocked everything from cabaret to baroque adagios."


Nyman utilized a death march in his earlier work, Drowning by Numbers, and revives the scheme for Memorial, clearly setting death and its emotional impact as the main theme of the composition. Indeed, Nyman explicitly dedicated Memorial to the memory of theJuventus F.C. fans killed in the Heysel Stadium tragedy, in May 1985.

The composition borrowed a musical phrase from Baroque composer Henry Purcell's King Arthur, the prelude to "What Power Art Thou," sung by the Cold Genius in Act III, but the phrase is repeated in countless times, in a minimalist fashion. The composition is dominated for the first two-thirds by the string and horn sections, backed up by bass guitar, and a drummer. Soprano Sarah Leonard comes in only in the last third of section, and her performance mainly consists of long wordless complaints, adding a dramatic effect to the composition. Her song is continuously an octave higher than the rest of the orchestra, thus creating a haunting effect that suggests pain and sorrow.


The composition was described in the Guardian by Waldemar Januszczak as 'a small piece of atonement'. This composition is part of critic Frank Oteri's list of the most important 100 classical compositions by living composers (see:

It had a strong effect on movie director Peter Greenaway, who decided to create parts of his film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover after this composition. In fact, this composition is perhaps the best example of the integration of Nyman's music to Greenaway's work. The final sequence of the movie was entirely choreographed around the fifth movement. The sequence represents a procession bearing the body of The Lover, prepared by The Cook, served by The Wife as a dish for her husband, The Thief.