Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music (MM)


Musicology (Music)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Marysol Quevedo

Second Committee Member

Anne Searcy

Third Committee Member

Juan Chattah


From the early 1980s onwards, Steve Reich’s musical influences evolved. Before the 1980s, he drew from non-Western music and later from Western classical composers, such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Perotinus. The purpose of this study is to investigate the aesthetic shifts in Reich’s opus and also to explore Reich’s claims about changes of influence in his music and its consequences in the reception of his work. Through a close examination of Tehillim (1981) and Proverb (1995), I explore Reich’s position within postminimalism and his relation to the musical tradition of counterpoint from historical, stylistic, and analytical perspectives. I also discuss Reich’s poetical narratives and style in relation to both the early music movement and US and European “spiritual” minimalism. I argue that the change in Reich’s aesthetics and narratives around his work is the result of three factors: Reich’s turn to postminimalism; his turn to spirituality and Judaism; and his connection with important classical music institutions and the early music movement. Reich turned to Bach and Perotinus in part because of specific elements in their compositional technique, such as imitation, doubling, and isorhythm. These new elements in Reich’s work affected his style, specifically his treatment of melody, text, and canonic technique. In Tehillim, Reich integrates psalm text into his music for the first time, which affects his approach to melody and rhythm. He also implements canonic technique in a more traditional way than in his earlier compositions. This approach was later applied in Proverb. Additionally, both compositions draw from spirituality: Tehillim is inspired by a psalm text and Reich’s Jewish background, while Proverb connects to spirituality more broadly, through Perotinus’s early sacred music and the early music movement in general. Thus, Reich’s reference to Bach’s and, later, Perotinus’s music, is personal, artistic, and historical. Through these stylistic and spiritual influences in his opus, demonstrated in Tehillim and Proverb, Reich shows the elasticity of his aesthetics and its importance in the establishment of different communicative gestures between the composer, audience, and critics. The narrative Reich presents in his frequent interviews has strong connections with classical music that further makes his compositions more identifiable and accessible to the audience. Reich’s narrative also coincides with the acknowledgment of his work among renowned institutions, ensembles, and audiences. The increased accessibility of his music allowed audiences to reconsider his earlier, previously undervalued works. Therefore, such high appreciation of Reich’s music intersects with its successive commissions and performances. Additionally, Reich’s public engagement with presenting his work within the Western counterpoint musical tradition led to the canonization of this composer in the classical music world.


Steve Reich; minimalism; postminimalism; Tehillim; Proverb; aesthetics; style; canon; canonic technique; early music movement

Available for download on Saturday, July 24, 2021