A salute to Terry Riley, godfather of minimalism, on his 74th birthday
It’s time for another birthday salute, this one to Terry Riley, godfather of minimalism. He turns 74 today (June 24).
For years, I was pathetically unaware of his importance in shaping a musical genre that I find irresistible. By the time I became cognizant of minimalism in the early 1980s, the big names were Glass, Reich and Adams. I would read references to Riley in liner or program notes, but, being sadly uneducated at the time (I was practically still in swaddling clothes, after all), I didn’t bother to investigate. Besides, I never came across performances of Riley’s music back then, so I probably assumed that his stylistic descendants were all that really mattered. As the Countess de Lave in The Women might say, with a deep sigh: La naïveté! la naïveté!
Anyway, I eventually came to see the error of my ways. A couple years ago ...
I even got to experience a New York concert by Riley. Looking like a mystic in his skull cap and long white beard, he made enthralling, disarmingly contented music.
Were it not for Riley’s bold broadside in 1964, the ever-potent composition In C, we might never have witnessed the explosion of minimalism that, in various guises, is still with us. I’ve never lost my initial attraction to minimalists, even while retaining great appreciation for thorny, atonal works by many brilliant maximalists, not to mention pieces in any number of other styles. I guess I just love the refreshing change of pace and pulse and purpose that minimalism provides.
And I now feel what I should have felt all those years ago in my dark ages – deep gratitude for the man who ignited the minimalist revolution.
To celebrate Riley’s 74th birthday, here are excertps from a few distinctive interpretations of that iconic piece, In C.