Proms 2018

To get you in the mood for Proms at … Bold Tendencies - featuring several Steve Reich compositions performed Christopher Stark and the Multi-Story Orchestra in the suitably minimalist surroundings of a car park in Peckham, south London - here's a quick guide to minimalism culled from the BBC's archives.

Minimalism is a branch of modern classical music developed in New York in the early 1960s by composers such as Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. As the name suggests, it involves stripping down music to its bare essentials (and beyond) to focus on its pure sonic power rather than anything it might evoke or represent.

Initially, minimal music was characterised as droney and hypnotic - or cold and repetitive to its detractors - but the style has proved remarkably durable and popular, frequently infecting the mainstream, with the likes of Reich, Glass, John Adams and Michael Nyman enjoying long careers.

Remember, less is more. It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play.

1. It started with a drone...

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 3 - Discovering Music: 1964, The Rise of Minimalism

In this documentary, Charles Hazlewood traces the rise of minimalism back to a 1964 performance of Terry Riley's In C. He goes on to explore the flowering of the minimal movement, with musical assistance from the BBC Concert Orchestra.

2. The Reich stuff

[WATCH] BBC Arts - Masters of Minimalism: Steve Reich

Steve Reich is a key minimalist composer, with three of his works due to be performed at the Bold Tendencies Prom. Above, he reveals the early musical epiphanies that set him on a path to minimalism, and discusses the composition of some of his most famous works.

Intrigued? Watch and listen to more Steve Reich documentaries.

3. Breaking Glass

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 4 - Philip Glass: Taxi Driver

Shortly after moving to New York in 1967, Philip Glass fell in with Steve Reich and began composing in a minimalist style. While working on the pieces that comprise Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4), he was making ends meet by driving a taxi around Manhattan. In this fascinating documentary, he revisits those days to reveal how the hubbub of New York City seeped into his music.

4. Prepare for El Nino

[WATCH] Music Masters: John Adams

American John Adams is a composer schooled in minimalism, but clearly operas such as 1987's Nixon in China and 2005's Doctor Atomic (about the creation of the first nuclear bomb) have more of a narrative/political impetus. In this 2001 documentary, he discusses his work with Charles Hazlewood before the premiere of his opera El Nino.

5. The Piano man

[LISTEN] BBC Radio 3 - Composer of the Week: Michael Nyman

Perhaps the most successful UK composer associated with minimalism is Michael Nyman, sometimes billed as the best-selling classical composer in Britain. His 1993 soundtrack for Jane Campion's film The Piano has become a much-imitated modern classic. Here, he reviews his storied career with Radio 3's Donald Macleod.

Bonus listen: Michael Nyman on Desert Island Discs.

Related links

Added item image
Added, go to My Music to see full list.
More from