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Minimalist music
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Minimalist music

In classical music of the last 35 years, the term minimal music is sometimes applied to music which displays some or all of the following features: David Cope (1997) lists the following qualities: The term minimal music is derived from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier used for visual arts.

The word "minimalism" was first used in relation to music in 1968 by Michael Nyman in a review of Cornelius Cardew's piece The Great Digest. Nyman later expanded his definition of minimalism in music in his 1974 book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond. Tom Johnson, one of the few composers to self-identify as minimalist, also claims to have been first to use the word as new music critic for the Village Voice.

While many people, especially popular music fans, find minimalist music less difficult music to listen to than serialism and other current avant-garde classical music. For some, especially romantic and earlier music fans, it is easy music to find annoying, due to the repetition, perceived lack of complexity, or rigidity of process music. The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley; while the less well known La Monte Young is generally credited as the "father" of minimalism.

There is much variety in the music called minimal, in every regard from instrumentation to structure to technique. The early compositions of Glass and Reich tended to be very austere, with little embellishment on the principal theme, and written for small instrumental ensembles (of which the composers were members), made up, in Glass's case, of organs, winds--particularly saxophones--and vocalists, in Reich's case with more emphasis on mallet and percussion instruments. (These works would be scored for any combination of such instruments: one piece by Reich, the aptly named Six Pianos, is scored just so.) Adams' works have most often been written for more traditional classical forces: orchestra, string quartet, even solo piano. (Though all four major minimalists have written symphonies and quartets etc, none have written them so exclusively as Adams.) His works tend also to be much more approachable for the classical ear; there is a minimalist core to his work, but there is also a more traditional philosophy and stylistic diversity behind his compositions, and a phrase in an Adams work is less likely to stay unchanged and in the same instrument(s) for a long time than in would be in another minimalist's work. Some of Adams' orchestral works have been described as "maximalist", although this is not a word that would be widely recognized by reviewers (serialist Charles Wuorinen self-identifies as a maximalist).

It should be noted that the minimalist movement in music bears only an occasional relationship to the movement of the same name in visual art. This connection is probably one reason why many minimalist composers dislike the term. Philip Glass, whose group initially performed at art galleries where his minimalist visual artist friends were showing, reportedly said of minimalism, "That word should be stamped out!"

Early minimalists include:

Other more current minimalists include: Other composers who have been described as minimalists include: See also post-minimalism, process music.


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