European music connected with minimalism

In the 1960s and 1970s, while american minimalist music originated in New York, some composers also approached the style in Europe, like Arvo Pärt and Gavin Bryars, and in the 1980s composers Michael Nyman and Wim Mertens were in many ways influenced by the minimalist and post-minimalist movement. However most of these european composers don't fall under a specific category.

Gavin Bryars wrote The Sinking of the Titanic in 1969 as an attempt to construct an aural picture of the disaster, with repetition and overlapping of hymns supposedly played by the ship's orchestra. After several performances during the next years, this piece was recorded and released in 1975 on Brian Eno's Obscure label.

In 1971 Bryars wrote the well known Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. This work begins with a recorded loop of a London tramp singing a hymn of that name, and then gradually introduces harmonies with different instruments increasing in density: first strings, then guitar and bass, and then the entire chamber orchestra.

Bryars has composed prolifically for theatre, dance and for the concert hall, as well as some operas and chamber music for the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, which was founded in 1981 and performs internationally.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is considered a pioneer of holy minimalism. He invented his own compositional technique, which he called tintinnabuli, influenced by his mystical experiences with chant music. This style is rhythmically simple and has two types of voices: the tintinnabular voice which arpeggiates the tonic triad, and a second voice which moves diatonically in stepwise motion. Some early works to show this style were Für Alina (1976) and Spiegel Im Spiegel (1978).

Another example of tintinnabular style is the popular short canon titled Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten (1977), for string orchestra and bell, an impressive elegy to the death of the english composer.

Fratres consists of a set of eight or nine chord sequences, separated by a recurring percussion motif. The first version for string quintet was written by Pärt in 1977, and further versions for different instruments were written in the next years. Another popular work is Tabula Rasa (1977), scored for two violins, string orchestra, and prepared piano.

In England, after having worked as a music critic since 1968, Michael Nyman explored the influence of John Cage on his book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (1974). In 1976 he founded his first ensemble, the Campiello Band, for a production of the italian dramatist Carlo Goldoni's Il Campiello. This group was later known as the Michael Nyman Band.

Nyman held a long term collaboration with filmmaker Peter Greenaway, writing a lot of popular film scores including The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), A Zed and Two Noughts (1986), Drowning by Numbers (1988), The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Prospero's Books (1991). However he is best known by the public for his best seller score to Jane Campion's award-winning The Piano (1993).

Michael Nyman has written several operas, as the acclaimed The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1986), as well as concerts, chamber music and even ballet music.

Recently Nyman has composed music for the spanish flamenco singer Estrella Morente, in a collaboration for her next album, not released yet.

In the late 1970s Wim Mertens worked as a radio and television producer in Belgium, where he produced concerts by Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Meredith Monk and others. He recorded with Gust De Meyer the album For Amusement Only (1980), an electronic experiment around the music of pinball machines.

Mertens' early works were released under the group name Soft Verdict, usually exploring musical ideas with overdubbing of single instruments or sounds. Some classics from this period are the songs Close Cover and Struggle for Pleasure.

Wim Mertens composed the music for Jan Fabre's play The Power of Theatrical Madness, which premiered in Venice, Italy, on 1984. This music was released as the double-disc album Maximizing the Audience (1985), which in some degree revisited earlier works for some sections of the album. Lir is a piece for two pianos that incorporates the 1982 composition Gentleman of Leisure, and the track Maximizing the Audience quotes from the 1983 piece Inergys.

Mertens' music was used in Peter Greenaway's film The Belly of an Architect (1987), which also featured music by New York based composer Glenn Branca. The film included the tracks Struggle For Pleasure, 4 Mains and Close Cover among others.

In 1986 Mertens released the album A Man of No Fortune, And with a Name to Come, dedicated to his father. With just piano and his countertenor voice, this might be one of his best works. After Virtue (1988) is another outstanding piano solo album with occasional voice.

Wim Mertens has composed music from piano solo to chamber music ensembles and symphonic orchestra, and his music has occasionally been used in some quite well-known commercials.

This article is the second of a series starting with:
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