Steve Reich: Tehillim

I used to be way into ‘free jazz’ and experimental music to the point that I was about to get horn rimmed glasses and an asian girlfriend, but eventually I got so deep into it that I started to get lost in it and forget what drew me to it at all. Once I heard Peter Brotzman, I think I realized that the hard core abstract dissonance was too much for me and I would start getting back to my roots, melodic tracks based on strong rhythms. One thing always stayed with me, and that was how amazing Steve Reich was with his ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ record and his ‘Tehillim’ album.

I’m only blogging this out because as I was browsing through (something I try not to do too often), I stumbled on his ‘Tehillim’ record and couldn’t believe it. I thought records like that were sold online exclusively to, what is this world coming to? If target is getting into experimental music, maybe it is time for me to get back into it all?

If you aren’t familiar with him. Steve Reich (born October 3, 1936) is an American composer who pioneered the style of minimalist music. His innovations include using tape loops to create phasing patterns (examples are his early compositions, “It’s Gonna Rain” and “Come Out”), and the use of simple, audible processes to explore musical concepts (for instance, “Pendulum Music” and “Four Organs”). These compositions, marked by their use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm and canons, have significantly influenced contemporary music, especially in the US. Reich’s work took on a darker character in the 1980s with the introduction of historical themes as well as themes from his Jewish heritage, notably the Grammy Award-winning Different Trains.Reich’s style of composition influenced many other composers and musical groups. Reich has been described by The Guardian as one of “a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history”,[2] and the critic Kyle Gann has said Reich “may…be considered, by general acclamation, America’s greatest living composer.”[3] On January 25, 2007, Reich was named the 2007 recipient of the Polar Music Prize, together with Sonny Rollins. On April 20, 2009, Reich was awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Double Sextet.[4]

Reich’s work took on a darker character in the 1980s with the introduction of historical themes as well as themes from his Jewish heritage. Tehillim (1981), Hebrew for psalms, is the first of Reich’s works to draw explicitly on his Jewish background. The work is in four parts, and is scored for an ensemble of four women’s voices (one high soprano, two lyric sopranos and one alto), piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, two clarinets, six percussion (playing small tuned tambourines without jingles, clapping, maracas, marimba, vibraphone and crotales), two electronic organs, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, with amplified voices, strings, and winds. A setting of texts from psalms 19:2–5, 34:13–15 (34:12–14), 18:26–27 (18:25–26), and 150:4–6, Tehillim is a departure from Reich’s other work in its formal structure; the setting of texts several lines long rather than the fragments used in previous works makes melody a substantive element. Use of formal counterpoint and functional harmony also contrasts with the loosely structured minimalist works written previously.

Get it at Target

– Guy Emanuel


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You might also like