Module WXM-3176:
The Music of Michael Nyman

Module Facts

Run by School of Music and Media

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Pwyll ap Sion

Overall aims and purpose

To secure all the learning outcomes.

Course content

Nyman’s rise to international prominence during the past three decades has made him one of the world’s most successful living composers. His music has nevertheless been criticized for its ‘parasitic’ borrowing of other composers’ ideas and for its relentless self-borrowing. In this course, I will attempt to address these issues by placing Nyman’s writings within the general context of Anglo-American experimentalism, minimalism and post-minimalism in order to develop a series of useful areas from which controversial aspects of Nyman’s musical language can be more clearly understood and appreciated. Drawing upon terms informed by intertextual theory, I will introduce concepts relating to appropriation and borrowing within the context of twentieth-century art music and theory. I will then explain and define intertextuality, before placing Nyman’s musical language in relation to a series of classifications and types. These types will form the basis of more in-depth studies of certain works during the second half of the course, ranging from opera and chamber music to film. Rather than restricting style and technique, Nyman’s intertextual approach, on the contrary, provides his music with an almost infinite amount of variety, flexibility and diversity, and this has been used to illustrate a wide range of aesthetic and expressive forms. Nyman composes with his ear towards the past as if it were a rich quarry to mine, working like a musical archaeologist, uncovering artefacts and chiseling fresh and vibrant sonic edifices out of them.

Assessment Criteria


Work which demonstrates a limited knowledge of the subject, with restricted ability at conceptual thought, little evidence of intellectual rigor, but nevertheless expressed understandably;


Work which demonstrates a competent grasp of the subject, with encouraging conceptual thought, evidence of intellectual acumen, and expressed clearly and interestingly;


Work which demonstrates a thorough grasp of the subject, with evidence of advanced study and extended conceptual thought, with some originality and insight, and expressed lucidly and coherently.

Learning outcomes

  1. Become very familiar with Nyman’s music both in score and recording;

  2. Studied the context from which his music emerged and related it to the works of contemporaries and their influences;

  3. Analysed important works in detail, and provide critical and analytical commentaries on written work;

  4. Honed skills in communicating concepts and ideas relating to his music in detail, orally and in writing;

  5. Demonstrate a thorough and in-depth knowledge and understanding of Nyman’s oeuvre, and of academic studies relating to his music.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Main Assignment 75

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study 78

One class of up to 2 hours every week for 11 weeks, including student presentations. There will be a reading week during the semester


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Musicianship skills – recognition, classification, contextualisation, reconstruction, exploration
  • Intellectual skills specific to Music – contextual knowledge, cultural awareness, critical understanding, repertoire knowledge, curiosity, analytical demonstration
  • Technological skills – digital capture, digital expression, digital innovation
  • Intellectual skills shared with other disciplines – research and exploration, reasoning and logic, understanding, critical judgement, assimilation and application
  • Skills of communication and interaction – oral and written communication, public presentation, team-working and collaboration, awareness of professional protocols, sensitivity, ICT skills, etc.
  • Skills of personal management – self-motivation, self-critical awareness, independence, entrepreneurship and employment skills, time management and reliability, organisation, etc.


Resource implications for students

Students are encouraged to purchase my book *The Music of Michael Nyman* (Routledge Press), now available in paperback

Talis Reading list

Reading list

Allen, Graham (2000), Intertextuality (London, Routledge).

ap Siôn (2001), ‘Michael Nyman’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell (eds.) (London: Macmillan, 2001), vol. xviii, pp. 247–9.

–––– (2007), The Music of Michael Nyman: Texts, Contexts and Intertexts (Aldershot, Ashgate Press).

–––– (2012), ‘Understanding Minimalist Film Music: the case of Man on Wire’, Soundtrack 5/1 (2012), pp. 51–66.

–––– (ed.) (2013), Michael Nyman: Collected Writings (Aldershot, Ashgate Press)

–––– (2013), ‘Reference and Quotation in Minimalist and Postminimalist music’, in Keith Potter, Kyle Gann and Pwyll ap Sion (eds.) The Ashgate Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music (Aldershot, Ashgate Press, 2013), pp. 259–278.

Beirens, Maarten (2005), The Identity of European Minimal Music (PhD thesis, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven).

Campion, Jane (1993), The Piano (London, Bloomsbury).

Cenciarelli, Carlo (2006), ‘The Case Against Nyman Revisited: “Affirmative” and “Critical” Evidence in Michael Nyman’s Appropriation of Mozart’, Radical Musicology 1,

Daugherty, Anne (1997), Narrative and Non-Narrative Structures in the Film Music of Michael Nyman (PhD, Florida State University).

Denham, Laura (1993), The Films of Peter Greenaway (London, Minerva Press).

Ford, Andrew (1993), ‘Jerry Lee Lewis plays Mozart’, Composer to Composer (London, Quartet Books), pp. 192–5.

Gelder, K. (1999) ‘Jane Campion and the limits of literary cinema’, in D. Cartmell and I. Whelehan (eds.), Adaptations from text to screen, screen to text (London, Routledge) pp. 157–71.

Heldt, Guido (1989), ‘“… Breaking the Sequence Down Beat by Beat”, Michael Nyman’s Music for the Films of Peter Greenaway’, Film und Fernsehwissenschaftliches Kolloquium, Berlin 1989 (Münster), pp. 177–88.

Klein, Michael L. (2005), Intertextuality in Western Art Music (Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press).

Korsyn, Kevin (1991), ‘Towards a New Poetics of Musical Influence’, Music Analysis, 10/1–2, pp. 3–72.

Kramer, Jonathan D. (2002), ‘The Nature and Origins of Musical Postmodernism’, in J. Lochhead and J. Auner (eds), Postmodern Music / Postmodern Thought (New York, Routledge) pp. 13–26.

Kristeva, Julia (1980), Desire in Language: a semiotic approach to literature and art trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez, Leon S. Roudiez (ed.) (New York, Columbia University Press).

Lawrence, Amy (1997) The Films of Peter Greenaway (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendoff (1996), A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press).

Leydon, Rebecca (2002), ‘Towards a Typology of Minimalist Tropes’, Music Theory Online, 8/4,, accessed 19 April 2006.

McClary, Susan (2000), Conventional Wisdom (Los Angeles, University of California Press).

Margolis, M. (ed.) (2000), Jane Campion’s The Piano (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Mertens, Wim (1988), American Minimal Music (London, Kahn & Averill).

Nyman, Michael (1999), Experimental Music, Cage and Beyond (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Potter, Keith (1990), ‘New Music’, Musical Times, 131, pp. 212–3.

Purkis, C. (1995), ‘Postmodernity at the Piano, nineteenth-century bodies and the limits of language’, Critical Musicology Newsletter 3, pp. 36–42.

Ritzel, Fred (1993), ‘Planspiele, Zum Verhältnis von Bild und Musik bei Peter Greenaway und Michael Nyman’ accessed 1 February 2006.

Rivière, D. and Caux, D., (1987), ‘Entretien avec Michael Nyman’, Peter Greenaway (Paris, Dis Voir), pp. 74–91.

Russell, Mark and James Young (ed.) (2000), Film Music Screencraft (Woburn MA., Focal Press).

Sacks, Oliver (1985), The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (London, Picador).

Schwarz, K. Robert (1996), Minimalists (London, Phaidon).

Simon, L. (1982), ‘Music and Film, An Interview with Michael Nyman’, Millennium Film Journal 10/11, pp. 223–34.

Straus, Joseph (1990), Remaking the Past: musical modernism and the influence of the tonal tradition (Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press).

–––– (1991), ‘The “Anxiety of Influence” in Twentieth-Century Music’, The Journal of Musicology, 9, pp. 430–47.

Strickland, Edward (1993), Minimalism: Origins (Bloomington, Indiana University Press).

Wills, David and Alec McHoul (1988), ‘Zoo-logics, questions of analysis in a film by Peter Greenaway’, Textual Practice, 5/1, pp. 8–24.

Woods, Alan (1996), Being Naked Playing Dead, The Art of Peter Greenaway (Manchester, Manchester University Press).

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: