Minimalism as a musical genre owes its inception to the work of American composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass beginning in the 1960s. Musicologist Keith Potter describes the raison d’être for this compositional movement as the need for an “antidote to Modernism, as represented by both the total serialism of Boulez and Stockhausen and the indeterminacy of Cage.” The resulting style sought to promote tonality/modality and simplicity in the wake of the complexity of serialism and the disjunct nature of indeterminacy. From these fundamental ideals, a series of characteristics specific to the minimalist movement emerged. In his essay “Thankless Attempts as a Definition of Minimalism,” Kyle Gann lists these “ideas, devices, and techniques” as such: static harmony, repetition, additive process, phase-shifting, permutational process, steady beat, static instrumentation, linear transformation, pure tuning, influence of non-western cultures, and audible structure.
One compositional issue that arises from the minimalist aesthetic is the practical application of this genre in works conceived for a single-line wind instrument. The greatest challenge to repetition and maintaining a steady pulse is the inherent need to breathe, an issue that is otherwise irrelevant in works for strings, piano, or percussion. In studying minimalist works for the flute, several tactics for overcoming the idiosyncrasies of single-line wind instruments emerge: scoring for live performer with pre-recorded accompaniment, crafting melodic phrases that have clear “break points,” devising rhythmic motives that inherently allow for a breath, and the intentional use of silence in the construction of additive motivic fragments. In an attempt to demonstrate the diverse language of minimalist flute works, I will provide an overview of the following pieces: Steve Reich Vermont Counterpoint, JacobTV The Garden of Love, Philip Glass Arabesque in Memoriam, David Lang Thorn, and Henryk Górecki Valentine Piece.