Steve Reich

American composer (New York, 1936 - )

Composer and performer, Steve Reich is considered by John Cage to be one of the most remarkable ambassadors of the new American music, alongside La Monte Young, Terry Riley or Philip Glass.

After his philosophy studies and a thesis on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Steve Reich took piano, drums and compositions lessons at the Julliard School of Music from 1958 to 1961. There he met Art Murphy and Philip Glass. He completed his education at the Oakland Mills College in California with Darius Milhaud and Luciano Berio. At the time, the serialism was the standard in the matter or composition. Yet Steve Reich showed an inclination towards rhythms and tones, a preference that grew bigger in the contact of the African music and John Coltrane’s modal jazz.

From the 1960’s, his pieces fit in with the minimalist movement. He experimented the “phasing” technique with pieces like Music for Two and founded with three other musicians the ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians in 1966. At the same time, Steve Reich was also a Tape Music Center member and became one of its most active leaders.

Whereas they are made for magnetic tapes or for traditional instruments, Steve Reich’s pieces are built around interferences created by a progressive phasing of a pattern repeated in series. Those sounding combinations, constantly evolving, give to Reich’s music an obsessional form and make the listener lose track of time. The piece Music for Eighteen Musicians that he composed in 1976 is a perfect demonstration of all the techniques Reich used to work on rhythms and tone variations.

Six landmark dates in the life of Steve Reich

1964: Got involved in the creation of the repetitive piece of Terry Riley In C; it greatly influenced his approach of the repetitive music. 

1970: Went to Ghana and learnt to play African percussions. 

1973: Started to study the Indonesian gamelan.

1986: The New York Lincoln Center created a festival focusing on Steve Reich – the piece New York Counterpoint was created for this occasion.

1993: Composed his first opera, The Cave.

2011: Creation of WTC 9/11, in commemoration of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

Six pieces by Steve Reich

1965: Its’ gonna rain for magnetic tapes

1971-1972: Drumming for drums and vocals

1974-1976: Music for Eighteen Musicians for ensemble and vocals without lyrics

1985: New York counterpoint for clarinet and tape or clarinet ensemble

1988: Different Trains for strings quartet and magnetic tape

1995: City Life for instruments and sampler