50 years ago today, Minimalism was born

50 years ago today, Minimalism was born


norman lebrecht

November 04, 2014

On November 4, 1964 San Francisco heard the world premiere of Terry Riley’s In C, a work that repeats a single note, relieved by an F-sharp. The first performance, with the composer’s participation, came to be regarded as the birth of minimalism.

In C consists of 53 musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats; it is intended for any number of performers (though 35 is considered ideal) and can last any amount of time.

Alfred Frankenstein wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle: ‘It is formidably repetitious, but the harmonic changes are slowly introduced into it; there are melodic variations and contrasts of rhythm within a framework of relentless continuity, and climaxes of great sonority and high complexity appear and are dissolved in the endlessness. At times you feel you have never done anything all your life long but listen to this music and as if that is all there is or ever will be, but it is altogether absorbing, exciting, and moving, too.’ (h/t: Tim Page).

terry riley betty freeman

Terry Riley by Betty Freeman (c) Lebrecht Music&Arts