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Masterpiece week Reich

Masterpiece week Reich


One rhythmic pattern, twelve beats long: that’s all American composer Steve Reich needed to compose a work of more or less an hour. His Drumming (1970-71) wasn’t just a paragon of minimalist concentration, it was also a key work of the minimal music that had blown a fresh wind through American contemporary music since the mid-1960s. Reich borrowed the basic ingredients for this work for nine percussionists and four singers from Ghana, where he was studying West African drumming techniques. Using his characteristic phase shifting technique, he has two or more instruments start simultaneously and then accelerates one of them slightly. This causes phrases to shift apart and thus gradually creates new rhythmic and harmonic entities. The result is a ritual, obsessive and mesmerising whole that has the power to bring listeners into a trance-like or ecstatic state and make them lose all sense of time. 


  • American Steve Reich studied under Luciano Berio and Darius Milhaud. He is regarded as one of the most important living composers.
  • Drumming is a pivotal work in Reich’s oeuvre.
  • It is one of minimal music’s key works. As is typical of this contemporary classical music style, it is based on repetition and variation.
  • The entire piece – which was written for piccolo, soprano, alto and various percussion instruments – is built up from a single eight-note rhythmic pattern.
  • A performance of Drumming can last anywhere from 55 to 84 minutes, as the musicians themselves are allowed to choose the number of repetitions.