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Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art, especially visual art and music, where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. In other fields of art, it has been used to describe the plays of Samuel Beckett, or the films of Robert Bresson, or the stories of Raymond Carver, for example.

Visual minimalism

A minimalist painting, for example, will typically use a limited number of colours, and have a simple geometric design. Among the most notable minimalists in the visual arts are Frank Stella, Donald Judd and Carl Andre (See List of minimalist artists).

Musical minimalism

In classical music of the last 35 years, the term minimalism is sometimes applied to music which displays some or all of the following features: repetition (often of short musical phrases, with subtle variation over long periods of time) or stasis (often in the form of drones and long tones); emphasis on consonant harmony; a steady pulse. The word "minimalism" was first used in relation to music in 1968 by Michael Nyman in a review of Cornelius Cardew's piece The Great Digest. Nyman later expanded his definition of minimalism in music in his 1974 book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond.

While many people find minimalist music less difficult music to listen to than serialism and other current avant-garde classical reason, for some, it is easy music to find annoying, due to all the repetition. Others find the same repetition entrancing. The most prominent minimalist composers are John Adams, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley; while La Monte Young is generally credited as the "father" of minimalism.

There is much variety in the music called minimal, in every regard from instrumentation to structure to technique. The early compositions of Glass and Reich tended to be very austere, with little embellishment on the principal theme, and written for small instrumental ensembles (of which the composers were members), made up, in Glass's case, of organs, winds--particularly saxophones--and vocalists, in Reich's case with more emphasis on mallet instruments. (These works would be scored for any combination of such instruments: one piece by Reich, the aptly named Six Pianos, is scored just so.) Adams' works have most often been written for more traditional classical forces: orchestra, string quartet, even solo piano. (Though all four major minimalists have written symphonies and quartets, none have written them so exclusively as Adams.) His works tend also to be much more approachable for the classical ear; there is a minimalist core to his work, but there is also much very classical composing behind his compositions, and a phrase in an Adams work is less likely to stay unchanged and in the same instrument(s) for a long time than in would be in another minimalist's work. Some of Adams' orchestral works have been described as "maximalist", although this is not a word that would be widely recognized by reviewers.

It should be noted that the minimalist movement in music bears only an occasional relationship to the movement of the same name in visual art. This connection is probably one reason why many minimalist composers dislike the term. Philip Glass, who's group initially performed at art galleries where his minimalist visual artist friends were showing, reportedly said of minimalism, "That word should be stamped out!"

See also post-minimalism, process music.

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