Forty Years of Musical Minimalism, 1957-1997 - MUS00034C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Daniel March
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19
    • See module specification for other years: 2016-17

Module summary

This module traces the evolution of musical minimalism over a forty year period from its inception in the mid-1950s. Focussing on the work of Louis Andriessen, the significance of this musical style within the late twentieth century is explored.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2018-19

Module aims

So-called musical minimalism was one of the most influential styles of composition in the twentieth century, having a pronounced effect on the music of numerous composers (even those who rejected it), changing conceptions of musical material, time and tonality, and bringing a larger audience to contemporary music. The period of what may truly be called minimalism was short-lived, however, with most composers quickly developing their own ways in which to become more ‘maximalist’. This project will explore these ideas by focussing on the music of Louis Andriessen, whose music consistently extended – and at the same time critiqued – that by the American ‘gang of four’: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

One of the most significant of contemporary composers, Andriessen’s work encompasses many different genres: operas, large-scale music theatre, music for film, and a large number of works for a wide variety of different instrumental forces. He has been enormously influential not just as a composer but also as a teacher, and his work has played a key role in re-shaping composers’ relationships to their audiences. This module will examine a number of his most important pieces from the forty-year period in question, looking in detail at approach and technique, and consider issues such as music’s political implications, the setting of philosophical texts, the reaction against pre-existing performance structures, the use of non-musical models, and the mixing of musical genres. We will also, of course, look at significant works by Young, Riley, Reich and Glass (both minimal and maximal), and, more briefly, at music by composers such as John Adams and Michael Nyman.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the taught part of the project all students should:

  • have widened their knowledge of an important tradition within twentieth-century music, be familiar with a range of ‘minimalist’ repertoire, and be able to understand its musical and historical context;
  • have developed analytical approaches (of broad application) which enable them to understand and engage critically with the music in appropriate ways;
  • be familiar with common techniques found within minimal music, and be able to identify and discuss their effect;
  • have developed their understanding of wider musical, cultural and societal questions, and have considered their own positions on these issues;
  • have developed a critical appreciation of minimal music in its widest sense.

1st years: On completion of the module, in their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-A6, A9


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Assessment is through an essay of approximately 4000 words, on an appropriate topic of the student’s choice agreed in tutorial.


Task Length % of module mark
University - project
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Report form with marks to student no later than 4 weeks from submission of assessment.

Indicative reading

These are some useful pieces to listen to begin with:

  • John Adams: Shaker Loops (1978), Violin Concerto (1993)
  • Louis Andriessen: De Staat (1972-6), De Materie (1984-9)
  • Philip Glass: Two Pages (1968), Einstein on the Beach (1976), Akhnaten (1983)
  • Michael Nyman: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1987)
  • Steve Reich: Piano Phase (1967), Music for Eighteen Musicians (1974-6),Tehillim (1981)
  • Terry Riley: In C (1964), Salome Dances for Peace (1986)

The following texts are good starting points:

  • Everett, Yayoi Uno. The Music of Louis Andriessen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
  • Fleming, Richard and Duckworth, William, eds. Sound and Light: La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell UP, 2002.
  • Glass, Philip. Opera on the Beach. London: Faber, 1988.
  • Potter, Keith. Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.
  • Potter, Keith, Gann, Kyle & ap Siôn, Pwyll. The Ashgate research companion to minimalist and postminimalist music. Farnham, Ashgate, 2013.
  • Reich, Steve. Writings on Music, 1965-2000. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002.
  • Schwarz, K. Robert. Minimalists. London: Phaidon, 1996.
  • Strickland, Edward. Minimalism – Origins. 2nd Edition. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.