Michael Nyman - Biography

Michael Nyman is an English composer, libretticist, musicologist and pianist who is primarily known for his minimalist compositions and film scores for frequent collaborator, Peter Greenaway. Indelibly minimalist (he coined the term) yet with frequent nods to Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic composers.


Michael Laurence Nyman was born in Stratford, London on March 23rd, 1944. He attended Sir George Monoux Grammar School in Walthamstow. He began studying at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College in 1961. There he received an education from composer Alan Bush and musicologist Thurston Dart. Dart specialized in English Baroque, the contrapuntal lines and repetition of which greatly influenced Nyman's own work. Nyman also, at the behest of Dart, traveled to Romania to observe their folk music. In 1963 he composed Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet and Introduction and Allegro Concertato for Wind Quartet, the latter which was subsequently lost. In July, 1964, he won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition. Upon graduation in 1964, Nyman worked as a music critic. For the remainder of the decade, he primarily wrote for publications including The Listener, New Statesman and The Spectator although he did compose Canzona for Flute in 1965. It was in a review in The Spectator in 1968 of a composition by Cornelis Cardew that Nyman is generally acknowledged to have introduced the concept of minimalism as a musical description. In 1969, he wrote the libretto for Harrison Birtwiste's opera, Down by the Greenwood Side. He also directed a short film, Love Love Love.  Although Nyman didn't actively compose much during this period, he did perform, with artists including The Flying Lizards, The Portsmouth Sinfonia, The Scratch Orchestra and Steve Reich.


In 1974, Nyman wrote the book Experimental Music -- Cage and Beyond, an examination on the influence of John Cage on a generation of composers, including himself. In the years that followed, he began composing again, producing 1974's Bell Set No. 1. In 1976, he was invited by Harrison Birtwistle, Director of Music at the National Theatre, to arrange a number of 18th-century Venetian songs for a production of Goldoni's Il Campiello. Nyman used an arrangement of instruments both modern and medieval, including sebecs, sackbuts and shawms, bass drums and soprano saxophones. Afterward, Nyman kept the group together (which later became known as The Michael Nyman Band) and he composed 1976's 1—100, Waltz in D and Waltz in F, In Re Don Giovanni and the Brian Eno-produced Decay Music (1976 Obscure Records). 1978's The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz was followed by  1979's Fish-Knife, (Audio Arts), which was composed as the score for a performance sculpture by Paul Richards and Bruce McLean.


In the 1980s, Nyman continued drawing heavily from early music, but also baroque, classical and romantic, frequently in apparent homage to a particular composer. After the choral A Neat Slice of Time (1980), he began an opera based on Laurence Sterne's novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, that remains unfinished. In 1981, he composed the Webern-based Five Orchestral Pieces for Opus Tree, Think Slow, Act Fast, M-Work and 2 Violins. He also released Michael Nyman (1981 Victor Records). In 1982, Nyman composed Four Saxes (Real Slow Drag) for saxophone quartet.


Nyman's first major success was with his Purcell-inspired score for Peter Greenaway's 1982 film, The Draughtsman's Contract. It proved to be the first of several collaborations between the composer and filmmaker. The following year Nyman composed I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump, A Handsome, Smooth, Sweet, Smart, Clear Stroke: Or Else Play Not At All, Time's Up and Love is Certainly, at Least Alphabetically Speaking. In 1984, he composed The Abbess of Andouillets.


Nyman and Greenaway reunited for the film A Zed & Two Noughts. In 1985, he also composed Nose-List Song, Childs Play and String Quartet No. 1. Robert Schumann was the primary inspiration for Nyman's 1986 opera, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. That year he also composed Taking a Line for a Second .Walk and And Do They Do. Another opera, Vital Statistics (1987), was followed by Nyman's Mozart-inspired score for Greenaway's Drowning By Numbers (1988 Virgin). Meanwhile, dancer/choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh commissioned the Bartok-shaded String Quartet No. 2.


In the final year of the decade, Nyman composed La Traversée de Paris for an audio-visual exhibition at the Grande Arche de la Defense. He also scored Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and released La Sept (1989 Virgin Venture) performed by The Michael Nyman Band.  The choral piece, Out of the Ruins (1989 Silva Screen Records), was written for the first anniversary of the Spitak earthquake in Armenia. He also composed The Fall of Icarus, L'Orgie Parisienne - Arthur Rimbaud and La Sept.


In the first year of the new decade, Nyman composed Shaping the Curve, Polish Love Song, String Quartet No. 3, The Kiss and Other Movements and Six Celan Songs. The latter was  based on the poems of Paul Celan and was composed for Ute Lemper. Lemper and Nyman also collaborated on the Dowland-inspired score for Greenaway's Prospero's Books (1991 London).  It proved to be their last collaboration. That same year he released String Quartets 1-3 (1991 Argo) and composed the opera Letters, Riddles and Writs, The Tempest-inspired opera,  Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs, Where the Bee Dances and Fluegelhorn and Piano.


In 1992, Nyman composed Time Will Pronounce, For John Cage, Self-Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence, The Convertibility of Lute Strings, Anne de Lucy Songs, Le Mari de la Coiffeuse and The Upside-Down Violin. However, Nyman's music was exposed to a much larger audience that year when he scored Jane Campion's film, The Piano. Although released as a score, it wasn't truly such. In the film, Holly Hunter had performed the piano parts. On the score (1993-Virgin), the music was performed by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nyman with Michael Nyman Band members' involvement. That year he also composed MGV - Musique à grande vitesse, The Piano Concerto, Yamamoto Perpetuo and Songs for Tony. In 1994, he composed To Morrow, 3 Quartets and Concerto for Trombone.


Nyman's next film score was for Christopher Hampton's Carrington (1995-Polygram). That year he also composed Tango for Tim (In memoriam Tim Suster), The Waltz Song, Viola and Piano, Grounded, HRT, Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings, Double Concerto for Saxophone and Cello, After Extra Time and the score for the video game Enemy Zero (1997). In 1997, he composed Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks and The Promise, as well as the score for Andrew Niccol's Gattaca. In 1998, he composed the opening and closing theme for the children's program, Titch. That year he also composed Cycle of Disquietude (Coisas, Vozes, Lettras), Orfeu and De Granada A La Luna. In 1999, he composed The Commissar Vanishes as well as the scores for Neil Jordan'sThe End of the Affair and Antonia Bird's Ravenous (with Blur's Damon Albarn -- who'd acted in her previous film, 1997's Face).


In the 2000s, Nyman largely turned his sights back to opera. For Facing Goya, he collaborated with librettos Victoria Hardie. The orchestral pieces, A Dance He Little Thinks Of (2001) and Violin Concerto (2003) followed. The operas Man and Boy - Dada (2003-MN Records) and Love Counts (2005) where both written with librettist Michael Hastings. 2006's gdm for Marimba and Orchestra  and Acts of Beauty' were followed by a choral piece with text by Jamal Jumá, 2007's A Handshake in the Dark. The same year he composed the song cycle, Eight Lust Songs. His most recent compositions have been the opera Sparkie - Cage and Beyond (2009) and the band effort, The Musicologist Scores.  In 2010 he released Vertov Sounds.

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