Michael Nyman ranks as one of the hardest working and most prolific composers of the 20th century. Early in his career, he was closely associated with director Peter Greenaway, for whom he composed several film scores, but in addition to movie work, Nyman's musical portfolio includes everything from string quartets to operas to avant-garde arrangements for his Michael Nyman Band. He is, by his own definition, a minimalist, and following the tradition begun by seminal American avant-garde composer John Cage, he draws freely from established works, taking small, often simple pieces of existing music (excerpted from sources ranging from Romanian folk songs to Mozart) and expanding upon them through repetition, layering, and changing enough elements to render them his own unique creations.
A native of London, Nyman studied under Alan Bush at the Royal Academy of Music. Between 1961 and 1965, he was mentored by famed Baroque scholar Thurston Dart at Kings College. Music was undergoing radical changes when Nyman graduated in the mid-'60s. This was a time when the Beatles and other musical innovators ruled the airwaves, and Nyman found himself rebelling against the more orthodox serialist view of classical music adopted by many modern composers. Rather than create music in such an atmosphere, Nyman chose to write about it. For the next decade, his alternately critical and scholarly articles appeared in such journals as The Spectator, The Listener, and The New Statesman. It was Nyman who coined the term "minimalism" to describe English composer Cornelius Cardew's "The Great Learning." In addition to writing about music, Nyman also performed with groups such as the Flying Lizards and the Portsmouth Sinfonia.