October 3, 1936 -
born in New York, NY, composed during the Contemporary period
Much though he may dislike the term, and however irrelevant it may be to his more recent music, Steve Reich will forever be identified with the musical style known as Minimalism. Over the years, Reich has embraced a wide variety of musical styles and interests, forging from them a unique synthesis.
Reich took piano lessons as a youngster, but his first big musical revelations came at 14, when he first encountered the music of Bach and Stravinsky. He also had his first exposure to bebop, and immediately started learning the drums and playing in a jazz band with friends. He continued to play jazz on weekends while studying at Cornell University, which he entered at age 16 and where he received a degree in philosophy, specializing in the work of Wittgenstein. After leaving Cornell in 1957, he moved to New York and entered the Juilliard School, where he studied with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti (and where he met fellow student Philip Glass for the first time). It was at Juilliard that Reich first heard 12-tone music; he got a further dose of it during graduate studies at Mills College in Oakland, working for three semesters with Luciano Berio and eventually earning his master's degree.
At about that time Reich met Terry Riley, who was in the process of writing and preparing for the first performance of his In C. Reich played in that premiere, and In C's tonal approach and use of repeating patterns had a big influence on Reich's own music. Reich was by that time experimenting with tapes, creating loops of speech and layering them several times over, allowing the layers to move in and out of sync with one another. His early tape works It's Gonna Rain (1965) and Come Out (1966) led to similar experiments with live performers, the first of which was Piano Phase for two pianos (1967). Back in New York, Reich and Glass formed an ensemble to perform their music. It lasted from 1968 to 1971, and several of those players later formed Steve Reich and Musicians, which has toured the world many times over.
In 1970, Reich studied for several weeks at the University of Ghana. His encounter with Ghanaian music and dance inspired his ambitious work Drumming (1970). Encounters with Indonesian gamelan music in 1973-1974 at Seattle and Berkeley were equally significant, and broadened Reich's rhythmic and timbral palette. His most significant composition of the time was Music for 18 Musicians (1974-1976), a large and colorful work which brought Reich worldwide recognition.
In the mid-'70s, Reich started taking Torah classes with his future wife, video artist Beryl Korot. He also studied traditional Jewish cantillation, and incorporated those studies into his psalm settings, Tehillim (1981). Several chamber and orchestral works followed in the 1980s. For Different Trains (1988), Reich used a digital sampler to record speaking voices and derived the rhythmic and melodic ideas of the piece from those voices. Reich knew that Different Trains was going to lead to some kind of new documentary form incorporating both video and music. Collaborating with his wife for the first time, the two completed their theater work The Cave in 1993. They are continuing to explore the combination of music and video with Three Tales, the first of which, Hindenburg, was completed in 1998. ~ Chris Morrison, Rovi