Michael Nyman


Michael Nyman is undoubtedly one of the UK’s most innovative and celebrated composers. His reputation is built upon a substantial body of work written for a wide variety of ensembles, not only for his own band, but also for symphony orchestra, choir and string quartet. In addition to his prolific output as a composer, Nyman is also a conductor, pianist, writer, musicologist, photographer and film-maker- his restless creativity and multi-faceted career making him one of the most dynamic and influential figures in contemporary culture.

Born in Stratford, East London on 23 March 1944, he was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow and studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1961-64 with Dr Peter Fletcher, Alan Bush and Geraint Jones. Between 1964-67 Nyman was a Ph.D student at King’s College, London under Thurston Dart, studying English baroque music and the principles of scholarly editing, producing the first modern edition of Purcell’s Catches (Stainer and Bell, 1967) and a new edition of Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (Eulenberg, 1973). He spent the academic year 1965/6 as a British Council exchange student collecting folk music in Romania.

In 1968, whilst working as music critic for The Spectator he coined the term ‘minimal music’ and in the following decade he both reflected and influenced a certain school of thought in contemporary music. Most of his important reviews, articles and interviews from The Spectator, New Statesman, The Listener and Studio International have since been published in Michael Nyman: Collected Writings, (Ashgate, 2013). In 1974, as a development of his journalistic work, Nyman published the still-classic book on new music, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (Studio Vista, London).

In 1969 Nyman was commissioned to write the libretto for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's opera Down By The Greenwood Side. A subsequent commission from Birtwistle in 1976 to write music for Carlo Goldoni’s Il Campiello, the opening production at the National Theatre, led to the formation of the Campiello Band, (subsequently renamed the Michael Nyman Band) which for over four decades has been the laboratory for much of his inventive and experimental compositional work.

Nyman has also enjoyed a highly successful career as a film composer, a role in which, somewhat to his regret, he is best known to the general public. His reputation was established through a series of highly successful scores for films directed by Peter Greenaway, including The Draughtsman's ContractProspero’s BooksA Zed and Two Naughts and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Other scores include Neil Jordan's The End Of The Affair; Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland, A Cock And Bull Story, and The Trip; Andrew Niccol’s Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster Gattaca (1997), and his enchanting music for Jane Campion's 1993 film, The Piano, the soundtrack album of which has sold more than three million copies. His music was used in the BAFTA award winning and Oscar nominated film, Man on Wire whilst his score for Erasing David (2009) was awarded Best Original Soundtrack at The London East End Film Festival. 

More recently Michael has focused on composing soundtracks for silent films from the late 1920’s: Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice, Sergi Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and new soundtracks for three Dziga Vertov films- Man with a Movie CameraThe Eleventh Year and A Sixth Part of the World.

Over the past few years Nyman has produced and exhibited a series of multi-screen moving image installations, enhancing his international reputation as a composer with his work as a film-maker. Working in collaboration with film editor Max Pugh, Nyman has developed an impressive body of filmic works, drawing on his extensive collection of moving images and stills made over many years. These beautiful and striking films, recorded during Michael’s travels in many countries and locations are blended with his musical compositions to create unique and extraordinarily evocative works. Nyman’s innate eye for detail, timing, colour, form, pattern and movement, are combined with his sense of humor and acute understanding and appreciation of visual and conceptual art.

His multi-screen installation NYman with a Movie Camera combines and intercuts extracts and fragments from many of Nyman’s extraordinary short films with his soundtrack for Dziga Vertov’s 1929 masterpiece. The resulting twelve-screen installation is both a tribute to the original ground-breaking film and a showcase for Nyman’s love of cinema, his filmic eye and his sense of pace and rhythm.

Nyman’s subsequent large-scale film project War Work: 8 Songs with Film, commissioned by the War on Screen International Film Festival to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, is a powerful and moving evocation of the horrors of war. The film draws together rare archive film material of the devastating trauma and destructive power of war on those who bore the impact of conflict and battle, with imagery by painters and artists who were both witness and victim.

Although the range and scope of his musical output is a clear demonstration of his versatility, Nyman’s preferred musical form is opera, for which he has composed a number of influential works including The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (1986), Facing Goya (2000), and the critically acclaimed Man and Boy: Dada (2003). 

His ten song cycles set texts from diverse writers including Shakespeare, Neruda, Octavio Paz, Paul Celan, Milton, and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz as well as Mexican ‘folk’ poets, amongst others. Additionally, Michael has composed music for a number of the world's most distinguished choreographers including Siobhan Davies, Ashley Page, Lucinda Childs, Stephen Petronio, Karine Saporta and Shobana Jeyasingh.

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. 

Michael was awarded the CBE for services to British music in 2008.  His music has been released by Virgin, EMI, Decca, Warner Classics and Sony and is now represented exclusively by his own record label, MN Records and published by Chester Music Limited.