Michael Laurence Nyman, CBE (born 23 March 1944) is an English composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist, known for numerous film scores (many written during his lengthy collaboration with the filmmaker Peter Greenaway), and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion's The Piano. He has written a number of operas, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; Letters, Riddles and Writs; Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs; Facing Goya; Man and Boy: Dada; Love Counts; and Sparkie: Cage and Beyond. He has written six concerti, five string quartets, and many other chamber works, many for his Michael Nyman Band. He is also a performing pianist. Nyman prefers to write opera rather than other forms of music.
Early life and education
Nyman was born in Stratford, London to a family of Polish secular Jewish furriers.
Nyman was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at King's College London and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Music in September 1961, studying with Alan Bush and Thurston Dart, focusing on piano and seventeenth-century baroque music. He won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition in July 1964. In 1965–66 Nyman secured a residency in Romania, to study folk-song, supported by a British Council bursary.
Nyman says he discovered his aesthetic playing the aria, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Mozart's Don Giovanni on his piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, which "dictated the dynamic, articulation and texture of everything I've subsequently done." It subsequently became the base for his 1977 piece In Re Don Giovanni.
In 1969, Nyman provided the libretto of Harrison Birtwistle's opera Down by the Greenwood Side and directed the short film Love Love Love (based on, and identical in length to, the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love") before settling into music criticism, where he is generally acknowledged to have been the first to apply the term "minimalism" to music (in a 1968 article in The Spectator magazine about the English composer Cornelius Cardew). He wrote introductions for George Frideric Handel's Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 and interviewed George Brecht in 1976.
One of his earliest film scores was the British sex comedy Keep It Up Downstairs (1976), and he has since scored numerous films, many of them European art films, including several of those directed by Peter Greenaway. Nyman drew frequently on early music sources in his scores for Greenaway's films: Henry Purcell in The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) (which included Memorial and Miserere Paraphrase), Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber in A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Drowning by Numbers (1988), and John Dowland in Prospero's Books (1991), largely at the request of the director. He wrote settings to various texts by Mozart for Letters, Riddles and Writs, part of Not Mozart. He also produced a soundtrack for the silent film Man with a Movie Camera. Nyman's popularity increased after he wrote the score to Jane Campion's award-winning 1993 film The Piano. The album became a classical music best-seller. He was nominated for both a British Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
His few forays into Hollywood have been Gattaca (1997), Ravenous (1999) (with musician Damon Albarn), and The End of the Affair (1999).
Among Nyman's other works are the opera Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1987), for soprano, alto, tenor and instrumental ensemble (based on Nyman's score for the ballet La Princesse de Milan); Ariel Songs (1990) for soprano and band; MGV (Musique à Grande Vitesse) (1993) for band and orchestra; concertos for saxophone, piano (based on The Piano score), violin, harpsichord, trombone, and saxophone & cello recorded by John Harle and Julian Lloyd Webber; the opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986), based on a case-study by Oliver Sacks; and five string quartets. In 2000, he produced a new opera on the subject of cloning on a libretto by Victoria Hardie titled Facing Goya, an expansion of their one-act opera Vital Statistics. The lead, a widowed art banker, is written for contralto and the role was first created by Hilary Summers. His newest operas are Man and Boy: Dada (2003) and Love Counts (2005), both on libretti by Michael Hastings.
He has also composed the music for the children's television series Titch which is based on the books written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins.
Many of Nyman's works are written for his own ensemble, the Michael Nyman Band, a group formed for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni's Il Campiello. Originally made up of old instruments such as rebecs and shawms alongside more modern instruments like the saxophone to produce as loud a sound as possible without amplification, it later switched to a fully amplified line-up of string quartet, three saxophones, trumpet, horn, bass trombone, bass guitar and piano. This line up has been variously altered and augmented for some works.
Nyman also published an influential book in 1974 on experimental music called Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, which explored the influence of John Cage on classical composers.
In the 1970s, Nyman was a member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia – the self-described World's Worst Orchestra – playing on their recordings and in their concerts. He was the featured pianist on the orchestra's recording of Bridge Over Troubled Water on the Martin Lewis-produced 20 Classic Rock Classics album on which the Sinfonia gave their unique interpretations of the pop and rock repertoire of the 1950s–1970s. Nyman created a similar group called Foster's Social Orchestra, which specialised in the work of Stephen Foster. One of their pieces appeared in the film Ravenous and an additional work, not used in the film, appeared on the soundtrack album.
He has also recorded pop music with the Flying Lizards; a version of his Bird List from the soundtrack to Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) appears on their album Fourth Wall as "Hands 2 Take".
On 7 July 2007, Nyman performed at Live Earth in Japan. On 2008 Nyman realised, in collaboration with the cultural association Volumina, Sublime, an artist's book that unified his music with his passion for photography.
In October 2009, Nyman released The Glare, a collaborative collection of songs with David McAlmont, which cast his work in a new light. The album – recorded with the Michael Nyman Band – finds McAlmont putting lyrics based on contemporary news stories to 11 pieces of Nyman music drawn from different phases of his career.
In 2012, he made a soundtrack for film Everyday. Keith H. Yoo in 2012 commissioned Nyman to write a 26 minutes long piano quintet in four movements titled Through the Only Window. It premiered at the gala dinner for his father Yoo Byung-eun's photographic exhibition "Through My Window" in the Tuileries Garden of The Louvre in Paris on 25 June 2012. The work has been recorded by Nyman Quintet in the Abbey Road Studios, and has been released on Nyman's record label. In 2013 Nyman was again commissioned to compose a piece for Yoo Byung-eun's exhibition in the Orangerie Hall of the Palace of Versailles, and wrote the 32 minutes long symphony in four movements, Symphony No. 6 "AHAE", representing the four seasons in nature as depicted by Ahae, a pseudonym for Yoo Byung-eun. The London Symphony Orchestra premiered both pieces at L'Opéra of the Palace of Versailles in Paris on 8 September 2013 under the baton of the composer. It has been recorded for a planned future release.
He was married to Aet Nyman and has two daughters, Molly and Martha. His first string quartet quotes "Unchained Melody" in homage to Aet, who appears in Greenaway's The Falls, for which he also composed music. Molly is also a composer and in collaboration with Harry Escott has written several film scores including for The Road to Guantanamo by her father's frequent collaborator, Michael Winterbottom. Martha is a development researcher for the BBC.
Nyman is a supporter of Queen's Park Rangers Football Club.
- 1961–67 – Studies at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College London.
- 1968–78 – Works as a music critic (becoming the first person to apply the word "minimalist" to music).
- 1976 – Founds the Campiello Band (now the Michael Nyman Band) and embarks on an eleven-film collaboration with Peter Greenaway.
- 1981 – Releases first Michael Nyman Band album.
- 1993 – Soundtrack for The Piano wins an Ivor Novello Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and American Film Institute award and goes on to sell over three million copies.
- 2002–2005 – Composer-in-Residence at Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe, Germany, who performed three Nyman operas and more tunes for his daughters.
- 2007 – Performed on 7 July from Kyoto, Japan as part of the Live Earth global environmental awareness musical event.
- 2015 – Live performance of Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera at the Potemkin Stairs. The show was part of the 6th Odessa International Film Festival and gathered approximately 15,000 spectators.
Nyman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Nyman was awarded an honorary doctorate (DLitt) from The University of Warwick on 30 January 2007. At the ceremony The University of Warwick Brass Society and Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul McGrath, premiered a specially composed procession and recession fanfare composed by Nyman.
In 2015, he was awarded the Golden Duke for Lifetime Achievement, the special award of the 6th Odessa International Film Festival.
- 1963 – Introduction and Allegro Concertato for Wind Quartet (lost)
- 1963 – Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet
- 1965 – Canzona for Flute
- 1974 – Bell Set No. 1 (multiple metal percussion)
- 1976 – 1–100 (4–6 pianos)
- 1976 – (First) Waltz in D (variable)
- 1976 – (Second) Waltz in F (variable)
- 1977 – In Re Don Giovanni (for the Michael Nyman Band) - arranged for string quartet (1991), string quintet (1997), and orchestra (2010)
- 1978 – The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (for multiple pianos)
- 1979 – 'The Masterwork' Award Winning Fish-Knife (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 1980 – A Neat Slice of Time (for choir)
- 1981 – Think Slow, Act Fast (for Hoketus) - reworked into soundtrack for A Sixth Part of the World in 2010
- 1981 – Five Orchestral Pieces for Opus Tree (band) (based on Anton Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10)
- 1981 – M-Work (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 1981 – Two Violins (for two amplified violins)
- 1982 – Four Saxes (Real Slow Drag) (for saxophone quartet)
- 1982 – A Handsom, Smooth, Sweet, Smart, Clear Stroke: Or Else Play Not At All (for orchestra)
- 1983 – Ballet Mécanique (for ensemble)
- 1983 – Time's Up (for ensemble)
- 1983 – I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump (for electric violin and viola, both players also simultaneously singing)
- 1983 – Love is Certainly, at Least Alphabetically Speaking (for soprano and ensemble)
- 1984 – The Abbess of Andouillets (for choir and percussion)
- 1985 – Nose-List Song (soprano and orchestra) [this and the above three works are from an unfinished opera setting of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which Nyman has repeatedly cited as his all-time favourite book]
- 1985 – Childs Play (for 2 violins and harpsichord or ensemble)
- 1985 – String Quartet No. 1
- 1986 – Taking a Line for a Second Walk (for orchestra (Basic Black) or piano duet)
- 1986 – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (opera; libretto by Christopher Rawlence; adapted from the Oliver Sacks case study by Nyman, Rawlence, and Michael Morris)
- 1986 – And Do They Do (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 1987 – Touch the Earth (for two sopranos, violin, and viola)
- 1987 – Vital Statistics (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie) - withdrawn and revised into Facing Goya in 2000
- 1988 – Orpheus' Daughter (opera; libretto by Gerrit Timmers) - withdrawn
- 1988 – String Quartet No. 2
- 1989 – Out of the Ruins (choir)
- 1989 – La Traversée de Paris (for the Michael Nyman Band, soprano, and choir)
- 1989 – The Fall of Icarus (for the Michael Nyman Band) - reworked into The Commissar Vanishes in 1999
- 1989 – L'Orgie Parisienne (for soprano or mezzo-soprano and ensemble) - originally part of La Traversée de Paris
- 1989 – La Sept (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 1990 – Shaping the Curve (for soprano saxophone, string quartet or piano)
- 1990 – Six Celan Songs (for contralto and orchestra)
- 1990 – Polish Love Song (for soprano and piano or two clarinets, viola, cello and bass)
- 1990 – String Quartet No. 3
- 1991 – The Michael Nyman Songbook A collection of songs based on texts by Paul Celan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, William Shakespeare, and Arthur Rimbaud and recorded with vocalist Ute Lemper.
- 1991 – Where the Bee Dances (soprano saxophone and orchestra)
- 1991 – Fluegelhorn and Piano
- 1992 – Time Will Pronounce (violin, cello, and piano)
- 1992 – For John Cage (brass ensemble)
- 1992 – Self-Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence (alto and string orchestra or countertenor and viol consort)
- 1992 – The Convertibility of Lute Strings (solo harpsichord)
- 1992 – Anne de Lucy Songs (soprano and piano)
- 1992 – Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser's Husband)
- 1992 – The Upside-Down Violin (orchestra/ensemble)
- 1993 – MGV: Musique à grande vitesse (band and orchestra)
- 1993 – The Piano Concerto (piano and orchestra)
- 1993 – Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1993; opera-ballet setting William Shakespeare's The Tempest)
- 1993 – Yamamoto Perpetuo (violin solo)
- 1993 – Songs for Tony (saxophone quartet)
- 1994 – To Morrow (soprano or soprano saxophone, organ)
- 1994 – 3 Quartets (ensemble)
- 1994 – Concerto for Trombone (trombone, orchestra, and steel filing cabinets)
- 1995 – String Quartet No. 4
- 1995 – Tango for Tim (In memoriam Tim Suster) (harpsichord)
- 1995 – The Waltz Song (unison voices)
- 1995 – Viola and Piano
- 1995 – Grounded (mezzo-soprano, saxophones, violin, piano)
- 1995 – HRT [High Rise Terminal] (chamber ensemble)
- 1995 – Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings
- 1995 – Double Concerto for Saxophone and Cello (saxophone, cello, and orchestra)
- 1996 – After Extra Time (ensemble)
- 1996 – Enemy Zero (game music)
- 1996 – The Ogre
- 1997 – Enemy Zero – Original Soundtrack
- 1997 – Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks (orchestra)
- 1997 – The Promise (piano)
- 1997 – Gattaca
- 1998 – Titch (worked on the main opening/closing piano theme).
- 1998 – Cycle of Disquietude (Coisas, Vozes, Lettras) (soprano, mezzo-soprano, and band)
- 1998 – Orfeu (band)
- 1998 – De Granada A La Luna (band)
- 1999 – The End of the Affair
- 1999 – Wonderland
- 2000 – Facing Goya (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)
- 2001 – a dance he little thinks of (orchestra)
- 2003 – Violin Concerto (violin and orchestra)
- 2003 – Man and Boy: Dada (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
- 2005 – Love Counts (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
- 2006 – gdm for Marimba and Orchestra (concerto)
- 2006 – Acts of Beauty' (song cycle)
- 2007 – A Handshake in the Dark (choral piece with orchestra; text by Jamal Jumá [world premiere 8 March 2007, Barbican, London, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, John Storgards conducting])
- 2007 – Interlude in C (expansion of a theme from The Libertine for Accent07 touring ensemble)
- 2007 – Eight Lust Songs (song cycle)
- 2007 – Warwick Fanfare (Parts 1 & 2) (procession and recession fanfares used for graduation ceremonies at the University of Warwick)
- 2008 – Yamamoto Perpetuo for Solo Flute (arranged by Andy Findon)
- 2008 – Something Connected with Energy (ensemble) - reworked into soundtrack for The Eleventh Year in 2010
- 2009 – Sparkie: Cage and Beyond (opera with Carsten Nicolai)
- 2009 – The Musicologist Scores (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 2010 – 2Graves
- 2010 – Body Parts Songs (song cycle)
- 2011 – Prologue to Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell (opera, libretto by Vera Pavlova)
- 2012 – Through the Only Window (piano quintet)
- 2013 – Trumpet & String Quartet
- 2014 – War Work: Eight Songs with Film (song cycle commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War)
- 2016 – As You Watch The Athletes Score (for the Michael Nyman Band)
- 2016 – No Time In Eternity (countertenor and viol consort)
Nyman's music re-used
- Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" (from The Piano) is the music on which Italian rock noir band Belladonna's song "Let There Be Light" is based. Released in December 2010, the track features Michael Nyman himself on piano.
- Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" (from The Piano) was used as backing music for one of the bank advertisements for Lloyds TSB broadcast on television. It has also been featured in episodes of 20/20.
- Music from Ravenous has been used at least once on WFYI's Across Indiana, in a segment titled "On the Trail of John Hunt Morgan", produced by Scott Andrew Hutchins.
- Nyman's soundtrack for Carrington is mostly based on his own String Quartet No. 3.
- A Cock and Bull Story contains music from The Draughtsman's Contract, as well as Nyman's arrangements of classical music used in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. (It does not use any music from Nyman's Tristram Shandy opera.)
- Nyman's music for Peter Greenaway's films has been used in the Japanese television program Iron Chef.
- Popular "Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds" (from The Draughtsman's Contract) constituted the main theme of Spanish TV program Queremos Saber, presented by Mercedes Milà in the nineties. In 2013, it was sampled in the Pet Shop Boys single "Love Is a Bourgeois Construct", produced by Stuart Price.
- Nyman features in '9 Songs' (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) playing at the Hackney Empire on his 60th birthday.
- Nyman's MGV: Musique à grande vitesse was used in November 2006 for a new one-act ballet for the Royal Ballet in London, DGV (danse à grande vitesse) by Christopher Wheeldon.
- Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" was covered by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. Nyman had refused to release the song initially; the band was later granted permission and the song was released on 29 February 2012 as part of the single The Crow, the Owl and the Dove from their album Imaginaerum.
- Time Lapse was used in Sky's 2008 'Heroes' advert
- Selections from Nyman's catalogue formed part of the soundtrack for James Marsh's 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, a film about Philippe Petit, a Frenchman, who in 1974 illegally strung a tightrope between the top of the WTC buildings and danced between them for 45 minutes, thus committing the "artistic crime of the 20th century".
- Nyman's piece "Car Crash" from A Zed & Two Noughts was used for once on the final episode of a Greek series called 'To Kafe Tis Xaras'
- Nyman's soundtrack for Wonderland has been used as part of the soundtrack for Juan Rodriguez-Briso's 2014 documentary film, Eighteam based on the true story of the Zambian national football team and its journey from tragedy to glory.
In addition to his composing and ﬁlm-making activities, Nyman has a full international touring schedule with the Michael Nyman Band as well as a series of unique one-off performances with a variety of collaborators, including musicians from outside the western/classical/experimental traditions such as the Orqestra Andalusi de Tetouan, Rajan and Sajan Misra, U. Shrinivas, Estrella Morente, Seijin Noborakawa, Ute Lemper, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Paolo Fresu, Mike Giles, the Flying Lizards, Dagmar Krause, Sting, Damon Albarn, David McAlmont and Alva Noto .
- Decay Music (Obscure, 1976)
- Michael Nyman (Piano, 1981)
- The Draughtsman's Contract (Charisma, 1982)
- The Kiss and Other Movements (Editions EG, 1985)
- A Zed & Two Noughts (That's Entertainment, 1985)
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (CBS, 1987)
- Drowning by Numbers (Venture, 1988)
- La Traversée de Paris (Criterion, 1989)
- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (Venture, 1989)
- String Quartets 1–3 (Argo, 1991)
- Prospero's Books (Decca, 1991)
- The Michael Nyman Songbook (Decca, 1992)
- Time Will Pronounce (Argo, 1993)
- The Piano (Venture, 1993)
- The Piano Concerto/MGV (Argo, 1994)
- Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (Argo, 1995)
- After Extra Time (Venture, 1996)
- Concertos (EMI, 1997)
- The Suit and the Photograph (EMI, 1998)
- Wonderland (Virgin Venture, 1999)
- Facing Goya (Warner, 2002)
- Sangam: Michael Nyman Meets Indian Masters (Warner, 2003)
- Man and Boy: Dada (MN, 2005)
- Acts of Beauty/Exit no Exit (MN, 2006)
- Love Counts (MN, 2007)
- 8 Lust Songs: I Sonetti Lussuriosi (MN, 2008)
- List of ambient music artists
- Michael Nyman official site
- Michael Nyman's homepage at Chester Music
- Michael Nyman on IMDb
- Michael Nyman at the BFI's Screenonline
- The Power of the Cadence: Michael Nyman in conversation with Robert Davidson
- 'The Case Against Nyman Revisited' Recent article on Michael Nyman's use of pre-existing music
- Michael Nyman à grande vitesse, review article in The Oxonian Review
- An Evening with Michael Nyman, BAFTA event video
- Michael Nyman audio at Internet Archive