The Analysis and Performance of Minimalist Keyboard Music: Three Case Studies

Kean, Paul David. 2020. The Analysis and Performance of Minimalist Keyboard Music: Three Case Studies. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Since the mid-20th century there has existed a small but expanding sub-section of musicological literature which states that the structural analysis of a work will yield positive results regarding its performance. The benefits of analysis to performance obtain (in the broadest sense) to process-based minimalist music. However, whereas the literature in question almost exclusively asserts that analysis informs performance at an interpretative level, this thesis will argue that the analysis of process-based minimalism more often informs its performance at the pre-interpretative level of execution. This observation is pertinent, given that performances of process-based minimalist works frequently fail to meet basic pre-interpretative standards of technical competency. In this thesis I will claim that these flaws in the performance of process-based minimalist music are partly caused by what I call the 'analytical challenge' – namely, that because the structures of these minimalist works (contrary to prevailing opinion) are not fully discernible aurally, the resulting lack of structural awareness can cause deficiencies in performance, often at the pre-interpretative level. I will claim that the solution to this analytical challenge is for performers to attain structural awareness via the analysis (be it first-hand or second-hand) of the work in question. With reference to three case studies of works from my own repertoire (Philip Glass Music in Contrary Motion, Steve Reich Piano Phase, and John Adams Phrygian Gates), I will demonstrate the positive benefits that analysis can have on the execution of process-based minimalism. I will claim that, for most works of this kind, some level of performance-oriented analysis is achievable for performers, and that they should therefore consider analysis to be a necessary aspect of performance preparation. I will conclude with the claim that the arguments and exhortations presented in this thesis could potentially facilitate a welcome improvement in the performance quality of process-based minimalism.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Analysis, Performance, Minimalism, Postminimalism, Piano, Keyboard, Process, PaulDavid Kean, Philip Glass, Music in Contrary Motion, Music in Fifths, Steve Reich, Phasing, Piano Phase, Six Pianos, Piano Circus, Goldsmiths, John Adams, Phrygian Gates, Terry Riley, Graham Fitkin, Memorization, Paul David Kean

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 December 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

18 Jun 2021 12:12

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:18


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