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2006 photo by David Gamble
Michael Laurence Edward Nyman, CBE (born 23 March 1944, Stratfordmarker, Londonmarker) is an Englishmarker composer of minimalist music, pianist, librettist and musicologist, perhaps best known for the many movie scores he wrote during his lengthy collaboration with the filmmaker Peter Greenaway, and his multi-platinum soundtrack album to Jane Campion's The Piano. His operas include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Letters, Riddles and Writs, Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs, Facing Goya, Man and Boy: Dada, Love Counts, and Sparkie: Cage and Beyond, and he has written six concerti, four string quartets, and many other chamber works, many for his Michael Nyman Band, with and without whom he tours as a performing pianist. Nyman has stated his preference for writing opera to other sorts of music. In 2008 Man On Wire was released, much of the film's soundtrack is derived from the 2006 album, The Composer's Cut Series Vol. II: Nyman/Greenaway Revisited.


Michael Nyman (also refered to as John Savill) was born to a working class, secular, Jewish family in East Londonmarker who made their living assembling furs. He was raised in Chingfordmarker, North East London, and spent the time he was supposed to be going to bar mitzvah classes remaining on the bus and riding to St. Albansmarker or Woolwichmarker. He also collected bus tickets as a hobby (a plot point in Man and Boy: Dada). He was rejected from the Yardley Lane Primary School choir as a "tuneless growler", but his musical potential was observed by teacher Leslie Winters when he transferred to Sir George Monoux Grammar Schoolmarker. As the Nymans owned no musical instruments, Nyman spent copious time in the Winters household, and Leslie's brother, Geoffrey Winters, recommended Nyman to the Royal Academy of Musicmarker in London, where he had studied with Alan Bush. He also has 89 films which include story lines mainly linked to comedy.

Nyman was accepted at the Royal Academy of Musicmarker in September, 1961, and studied with Bush and Thurston Dart, focusing on piano and seventeenth century baroque music. He won the Howard Carr Memorial Prize for composition in July 1964. In 1969, he provided the libretto for Harrison Birtwistle's opera, Down by the Greenwood Side and directed the short film Love Love Love (based on, and identical length to, The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love") before settling into music criticism, where he is generally acknowledged to have been the first to apply the term "minimalism" to music (in a 1968 article in The Spectator magazine about the English composer Cornelius Cardew). He wrote introductions for George Frideric Handel's Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 and conducted the most important interview with George Brecht in 1976.

Nyman, who had studied with the noted Baroque music scholar Thurston Dart at King's College Londonmarker, drew frequently on early music sources in his scores for Greenaway's films: Henry Purcell in The Draughtsman's Contract and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (which included Memorial and Miserere Paraphrase), Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber in A Zed and Two Noughts, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Drowning by Numbers, and John Dowland in Prospero's Books, largely at the request of the director.

Nyman says he discovered his aesthetic playing the aria, "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Mozart's Don Giovanni on his piano in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, which "dictated the dynamic, articulation and texture of everything I've subsequently done."

Michael Nyman - Numbers

He has scored numerous films, the majority of them European art films, including several of those directed by Peter Greenaway. His few forays into Hollywood have been Gattaca, Ravenous (with musician Damon Albarn), and The End of the Affair. He wrote settings to various texts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for "Letters, Riddles and Writs", part of Not Mozart. He has also produced a soundtrack for the silent film Man with the Movie Camera. Nyman's popularity increased after he wrote the score to Jane Campion's award-winning 1993 film The Piano. The album became a classical music best-seller. He was nominated for both a British Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Among Nyman's other works are the opera Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1987), for soprano, alto, tenor and instrumental ensemble (based on Nyman's score for the ballet La Princesse de Milan); Ariel Songs (1990) for soprano and band; MGV (1993) for band and orchestra; concertos for saxophone, piano (based on The Piano score), violin, harpsichord, trombone, and saxophone & cello recorded by John Harle and Julian Lloyd Webber; the opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986), based on a case-study by Oliver Sacks; and four string quartets. In 2000, he produced a new opera on the subject of cloning on a libretto by Victoria Hardie titled Facing Goya, an expansion of their one-act opera Vital Statistics. The lead, a widowed art banker, is written for contralto and the role was first created by Hilary Summers. His newest operas are Man and Boy: Dada (2003) and Love Counts (2005), both on libretti by Michael Hastings.

On children's television shows, he has created the music for Katie and Orbie and Titch.

Michael Nyman

Many of Nyman's works are written for his own ensemble, the Michael Nyman Band, a group formed for a 1976 production of Carlo Goldoni's Il Campiello. Originally made up of old instruments such as rebecs and shawms alongside more modern instruments like the saxophone in order to produce as loud a sound as possible without amplification, it later switched to a fully amplified lineup of string quartet, three saxophones, trumpet, horn, bass trombone, bass guitar and piano. This line up has been variously altered and augmented for some works.

Nyman also published an influential book in 1974 on experimental music called Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond ( Catalan, Spanish and French translations), which explored the influence of John Cage on classical composers.

In the 1970s, Nyman was a member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia — the self-described World's Worst Orchestra — playing on their recordings and in their concerts. He was the featured pianist on the orchestra's recording of Bridge Over Troubled Waters on the Martin Lewis-produced 20 Classic Rock Classics album on which the Sinfonia gave their unique interpretations to the pop and rock repertoire of the 1950s-1970s. Nyman created a similar group called Foster's Social Orchestra, which specialized in the work of Stephen Foster. One of their pieces appeared in the film Ravenous and an additional work, not used in the film, appeared on the soundtrack album.

He has also recorded pop music, with the Flying Lizards; a version of his Bird List from the soundtrack to Peter Greenaway's The Falls (1980) appears on their album Fourth Wall as "Hands 2 Take."

On 7 July 2007, Nyman performed at Live Earth in Japan. On 2008 Nyman realized, in collaboration with the cultural association Volumina, Sublime, an artist's book that unified his music with his passion for photography.

In a collaboration with friends Max Pugh and Marc Silver, Nyman is now beginning to exhibit his films and photography. Nyman’s videoworks are filmed with a hand-held camera. Usually spontaneous, they work as visual diaries of his inquisitive mind. Most often taken before and after concerts and as part of his international travels, video works feature everyday moments or episodes that Nyman has chanced upon and chosen to record; lingering on unfolding events, capturing the unexpected, or focusing on the less seen. Some works are left relatively unedited whilst other video works undergo further experimentation with split screens and visual repetition.

Soundtracks to some of the video works use location sounds, whilst others recycle existing scores from his archive, or a combination of both to create sound/ score montages.

In October 2009, Nyman will release The Glare, a collaborative collection of songs with David McAlmont, which cast his work in a new light. The album - recorded with the Michael Nyman Band - finds McAlmont putting lyrics based on contemporary news stories to 11 pieces of Nyman music drawn from different phases of his career.

David did the research and chose most of the musical pieces, Nyman explains. I suggested a few pieces,too but I really didn't do very much, although I think it's a true collaboration. You can identify who was responsible for what, but both aspects create a perfect synergy in which neither element can exist without the other.

Although the album was recorded in just two days, there was a huge amount of preparation and rewriting before they entered the studio. They're third generation songs and when you listen to them, you ask 'Is it Nyman?' 'Is it soul?' 'Is it rock'n'roll?' It's all and none of them, the composer says. I think we've created a new musical language. I'm no good at writing pop cliché - when I try, it invariably comes out sounding quite different.

The project has a long gestation for the pair first met in 2004 at a exhibition opening and talked about working together. Nothing came of it for almost five years until they got together again via Facebook, met up for lunch - and the idea for The Glare was born.

I was surprised and delighted by what we've came up with, Nyman says. So much so, that when I now play these pieces solo, it sounds like something's missing and the music needs David's voice and approach. That's a remarkable thing, because I've been playing these pieces for years. Of all the many collaborations I've been involved in, none has ever given me more pleasure and I'm desperate to take it on the road and play these.

Personal life

He was married to Aet Nyman and has two daughters, Molly and Martha. His first string quartet quotes "Unchained Melody" in homage to Aet, who appears in Greenaway's The Falls, for which he also composed music. Molly is a composer in her own right; in collaboration with Harry Escott she has written several film scores including for The Road to Guantanamo by her father's frequent collaborator, Michael Winterbottom. Martha is a development researcher for the BBC.

Nyman supports Queens Park Rangers football club.

Career highlights


Nyman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.

Nyman was awarded an honorary doctorate (DLitt) from The University of Warwick on 30 January 2007. At the ceremony The University of Warwick Brass Society and Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul McGrath, premiered a specially composed procession and recession fanfare composed by Nyman.[12251]


  • 1963 - Introduction and Allegro Concertato for Wind Quartet (lost)
  • 1963 - Divertimento for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet
  • 1965 - Canzona for Flute
  • 1974 - Bell Set No. 1 (multiple metal percussion)
  • 1976 - 1-100 (4-6 pianos)
  • 1976 - (First) Waltz in D (variable)
  • 1976 - (Second) Waltz in F (variable)
  • 1977 - In Re Don Giovanni (ensemble)
  • 1978 - The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (multiple pianos)
  • 1979 - "The Masterwork" Award Winning Fish-Knife (ensemble)
  • 1980 - A Neat Slice of Time (choir)
  • 1981 - Think Slow, Act Fast (ensemble)
  • 1981 - Five Orchestral Pieces for Opus Tree (band*) (based on Anton Webern's Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 10)
  • 1981 - M-Work (band)
  • 1981 - 2 Violins
  • 1982 - Four Saxes (Real Slow Drag) (saxophone quartet)
  • 1983 - A Handsome, Smooth, Sweet, Smart, Clear Stroke: Or Else Play Not At All (orchestra)
  • 1983 - Time's Up (chamber ensemble)
  • 1983 - I'll Stake My Cremona to a Jew's Trump (electric violin and viola, both players also simultaneously singing)
  • 1983 - Love is Certainly, at Least Alphabetically Speaking (soprano and band)
  • 1984 - The Abbess of Andouillets (choir)
  • 1985 - Nose-List Song (soprano and orchestra) [this and the above three works are from an unfinished opera setting of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which Nyman has repeatedly cited as his all-time favorite book]
  • 1985 - Childs Play (2 violins; harpsichord)
  • 1985 - String Quartet No. 1
  • 1986 - Taking a Line for a Second Walk (for orchestra (Basic Black) or piano duet)
  • 1986 - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (opera; libretto by Christopher Rawlence; adapted from the Oliver Sacks case study by Nyman, Rawlence, and Michael Morris)
  • 1986 - And Do They Do (modern dance, 1986)
  • 1987 - Vital Statistics (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)
  • 1988 - String Quartet No. 2
  • 1989 - Out of the Ruins (choir)
  • 1989 - La Traversée de Paris (soprano and band)
  • 1989 - The Fall of Icarus (band)
  • 1989 - L'Orgie Parisienne Arthur Rimbaud setting (soprano or mezzo soprano and orchestra)
  • 1990 - Shaping the Curve (soprano saxophone, string quartet or piano)
  • 1990 - Six Celan Songs (contralto and orchestra)
  • 1990 - Polish Love Song (soprano and piano)
  • 1990 - String Quartet No. 3
  • 1991 - The Michael Nyman Songbook A collection of songs based on texts by Paul Celan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, William Shakespeare, and Arthur Rimbaud and recorded with vocalist Ute Lemper.
  • 1991 - Where the Bee Dances (soprano saxophone and orchestra)
  • 1991 - Fluegelhorn and Piano
  • 1992 - Time Will Pronounce (violin, cello, and piano)
  • 1992 - For John Cage (brass ensemble)
  • 1992 - Self-Laudatory Hymn of Inanna and Her Omnipotence (alto and string orchestra or countertenor and viol consort)
  • 1992 - The Convertibility of Lute Strings (solo harpsichord)
  • 1992 - Anne de Lucy Songs (soprano and piano)
  • 1992 - The Upside-Down Violin (orchestra/ensemble)
  • 1993 - MGV: Musique à grande vitesse (band and orchestra)
  • 1993 - The Piano Concerto (piano and orchestra)
  • 1993 - Noises, Sounds & Sweet Airs (1993; opera-ballet setting William Shakespeare's The Tempest)
  • 1993 - Yamamoto Perpetuo (violin solo)
  • 1993 - Songs for Tony (saxophone quartet)
  • 1994 - To Morrow (soprano or soprano saxophone, organ)
  • 1994 - 3 Quartets (ensemble)
  • 1994 - Concerto for Trombone (trombone, orchestra, and steel filing cabinets)
  • 1995 - String Quartet No. 4
  • 1995 - Tango for Tim (In memoriam Tom Suster) (harpsichord)
  • 1995 - The Waltz Song (unison voices)
  • 1995 - Viola and Piano
  • 1995 - Grounded (mezzo-soprano, saxophones, violin, piano)
  • 1995 - HRT [High Rise Terminal] (chamber ensemble)
  • 1995 - Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings
  • 1995 - Double Concerto for Saxophone and Cello (saxophone, cello, and orchestra)
  • 1996 - After Extra Time (ensemble)
  • 1997 - Strong on Oaks, Strong on the Causes of Oaks (orchestra)
  • 1997 - The Promise (piano)
  • 1998 - Cycle of Disquietude (Coisas, Vozes, Lettras) (soprano, mezzo-soprano, and band)
  • 1998 - Orfeu (band)
  • 1998 - De Granada A La Luna (band)
  • 1999 - The Commissar Vanishes (band)
  • 2000 - Facing Goya (opera; libretto by Victoria Hardie)
  • 2001 - a dance he little thinks of (orchestra)
  • 2003 - Violin Concerto (violin and orchestra)
  • 2003 - Man and Boy: Dada (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
  • 2005 - Love Counts (opera; libretto by Michael Hastings)
  • 2006 - gdm for Marimba and Orchestra (concerto)
  • 2006 - Acts of Beauty' (song cycle)
  • 2007 - A Handshake in the Dark (choral piece with orchestra; text by Jamal Jumá [world premiere 8 March 2007, Barbican, London, performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, John Storgards conducting])
  • 2007 - Interlude in C (expansion of a theme from The Libertine for Accent07 touring ensemble)
  • 2007 - Eight Lust Songs song cycle
  • 2008 - Yamamoto Perpetuo for Solo Flute (arranged by Andy Findon)
  • 2009 - Sparkie: Cage and Beyond opera with Carsten Nicolai
  • 2009 - The Musicologist Scores (band)

*originally recorded by Nyman, Ned Sublette, Susan Krongold, Barbara Benary, Jon Gibson, Richard Cohen, Virgil Blackwell, Peter Zummo, and Peter Gordon at The Kitchen, and intended for Peter Greenaway's short film, The Tree.

Nyman's music re-used

  • Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" (from The Piano) was used as backing music for one of the bank advertisements for Lloyds TSB broadcast on television. It has also been featured in episodes of 20/20.
  • "Sheep & Tides" (from Drowning by Numbers) was featured in a commercial in which a woman smashes a man's car.
  • Music from Ravenous has been used at least once on WFYImarker's Across Indiana, in a segment titled "On the Trail of John Hunt Morgan", produced by Scott Andrew Hutchins.
  • Nyman's soundtrack for Carrington is mostly based on his own String Quartet No. 3.
  • A Cock and Bull Story contains music from The Draughtsman's Contract, as well as Nyman's arrangements of classical music used in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (it does not use any music from Nyman's Tristram Shandy opera).
  • Nyman's music for Peter Greenaway's films has been used in the Japanese television program Iron Chef.
  • Popular "Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds" (from The Draughtsman's Contract) constituted the main theme of Spanish TV program Queremos Saber, presented by Mercedes Milà in the nineties.
  • Nyman features in '9 Songs' (Michael Winterbottom, 2004) playing at the Hackney Empire on his 60th birthday.
  • Nyman's MGV: Musique à grande vitesse was used in November 2006 for a new 1-act ballet for the Royal Ballet in London, DGV (danse à grande vitesse) by Christopher Wheeldon.
  • Nyman's "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" was covered by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish. Nyman refused it to be released.
  • Time Lapse was used in Sky's 2008 'Heroes' advert
  • Selections from Nyman's catalogue formed part of the soundtrack for James Marsh's 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, a film about Philippe Petit, a Frenchman, who in 1974 illegally strung a tightrope between the top of the WTC buildings and danced between them for 45 minutes, thus committing the "artistic crime of the 20th century".
  • Nyman's piece "Time Lapse" is now used in secondary school music lessons.
Naked boy in the dark - (Co-written with Mo Lester)



  1. MICHAEL NYMAN talks to John Leeman about his opera Man and Boy: Dada
  2. Pwyll ap Siôn. The Music of Michael Nyman: Texts, Contexts and Intertexts Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate, 2007. pp 15-16.
  3. Siôn, 18
  4. Pwyll ap Siôn The Music of Michael Nyman. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. p. 83
  5. Andrew Ford. "Jerry Lee Lewis Plays Mozart." Composer to Composer London: Quartet Books, 1993. pp 192-195, p 194

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