Minimalism and Music

The cultural milieu of the first wave of minimalist composers all born in the mid 1930s in the United States was one marked by social upheaval, political revolution, and a new sense of global awareness and connection after the isolationist 50’s. This sense of a world stage in which the United States and the Soviet Union were the two antipodes invited an influx of ideas and cultural artifacts from the rest of the world. The late 50’s and early 60’s saw a massive increase in the number of colleges and universities and the subsequent rise in attendance of those institutions. This academic boom laid the groundwork for the ideological struggles that would precipitate politically, culturally, and artistically. As such, minimalism owes more to non-Western music, jazz and rock than to 20th-century Modernism or any other Western art music, at least that since the Baroque period (Potter "Minimalism"). While their modernist predecessors and their electronic and electro-acoustic contemporaries were interested in withdrawal, socially and musically as evidenced by Milton Babbit’s statement, "the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world into one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of composition" . That particular quotation of Babbit’s was present in his controversial essay, "Who Cares If you Listen," Steve Reich. believed quite the opposite and suggested that the work that he, Terry Riley and Philip Glass were doing was interested in the public reaction and interested in connecting with a more mainstream approach (Schwarz, 375).
The second wave of minimalist composers came later in the 80’s and 90’s under the rubric of "holy minimalism." This trio of composers included: Henyrk Gorecki, Arvo Part, and John Taverner. Their milieu is also suggestive of a multi-culturally infused, cosmopolitan attitude towards music, with an interest in connecting with the people around them. However, in addition to this cultural context, there is a religious or transcendent impulse in their music that is not necessarily present in the work of Riley, Glass or Reich. This transcendent impulse is also indicative of the opportunity to connect with an audience in a mainstream way, by the utilization of religious imagery perhaps common to many.
Stylistically, Minimalism is a response to serialism, free atonality, and aleatory styles of John Cage and other post-war avant-garde musicians (Schwarz, 375). It