Michael Nyman was born in in Stratford, East London on 23rd March, 1944. He was educated at the Sir George Monoux Grammar School, Walthamstow. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1961–64—academic studies with Dr Peter Fletcher, composition with Alan Bush and harpsichord with Geraint Jones. Between 1964–67 Nyman was a Ph.D student in Thurston Dart’s newly-founded music department at King’s College, London.
1976 was a key year in Nyman’s career. Two soundtracks composed in that year can now be seen as symbolising the populist and structuralist poles of Nyman’s subsequent work: Robert Young’s Keep It Up Downstairs and Peter Greenaway’s 1–100. Needless to say, it is Nyman’s collaboration with Greenaway, as fellow artists rather than as filmmaker/soundtrack composer, that has brought Nyman’s music into prominence, from The Draughtsman’s Contract of 1983 to Prospero’s Books, their last collaboration from as long ago as 1991. Nyman has subsequently worked with Patrice Leconte, Jane Campion (The Piano), Neil Jordan (The End of the Affair), Michael Winterbottom (Wonderland, The Claim and A Cock And Bull Story) and Andrew Niccol’s increasingly relevant Gattaca in 1997.
More recently his work as a soundtrack composer has confined itself to silent films from the late 1920s: Jean Vigo’s A Propos de Nice, new soundtracks to three Dziga Vertovs—notably Man with a Movie Camera, The Eleventh Year and A Sixth Part of the World and, in 2011, Battleship Potemkin. The majority of Nyman’s work, however, was written for the concert hall and the opera house: a bunch of operas, starting with The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat in 1986, through Facing Goya (2000) to Man and Boy: Dada (2003), five string quartets and eight concertos. Since the end of 2012, he has been working on a network of 19 symphonies.
His ten song cycles take texts from Shakespeare, Neruda, Octavio Paz, Paul Celan, Milton, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Mexican ‘folk’ poets, amongst others. He has also worked with musicians from outside the western/classical/experimental traditions, such as the Orquesta Andalusi de Tetouan, Rajan and Sajan Misra, U. Shrinivas, Estrella Morente, Seijin Noborakawa, Ute Lemper, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Paolo Fresu, Mike Giles, the Flying Lizards, Dagmar Krause, Sting, Damon Albarn, David McAlmont and Alva Noto.
2014 was also the year of Nyman’s 70th birthday celebrations and he is continuing his plan, devised in December 2012, of writing a series of 19 symphonies. Other commissions for this year are Aztecs in Liverpool (a visual companion piece to his Symphony No. 11: Hillsborough Memorial); War Work, based on visual material from the First World War; and Symphony No. 12: Habla de la ciudad at the Cervantino International Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Octavio Paz.