Reich

Born: 1936

Died:

Steve Reich

A pioneering minimalist whose studies of African drumming combined with a love of jazz have helped to form one of the most distinctive and influential voices in contemporary music.

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Reich studied drumming when he was 14 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra timpanist; later he took a degree in philosophy at Cornell (1953-57) and studied composition at the Juilliard School (1958-61) and at Mills College (1962-63) with Milhaud and Berio, also becoming interested in Balinese and African music. In 1966 he began performing with his own ensemble, chiefly of percussionists, developing a music of gradually changing ostinato patterns that move out of phase, creating an effect of shimmering surfaces; this culminated in Drumming (1971), a 90-minute elaboration of a single ­rhythmic cell. From c1972 he added harmonic change to his music and, later (Tehillim, 1981), melody. He has also worked with larger orchestral and choral forces (The Desert Music, 1983). Different Trains (1988), for string quartet and tape, won a Grammy for best new composition. Reich often cites Pérotin, JS Bach, Debussy and Stravinsky as composers he admires, whose tradition he wished as a young composer to become part of. Jazz is a major part of the formation of Reich’s musical style, and two of the earliest influences on his work were vocalists Ella Fitzgerald and Alfred Deller, whose emphasis on the artistic capabilities of the voice alone with little vibrato or other alteration was an inspiration to his earliest works.

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