Memorial (Nyman)

Memorial is an epic funeral march-like piece, composed by Michael Nyman around 1984-1985. This composition is one of the most praised of Nyman's works. Its first commercial recording was on the soundtrack of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and has been rerecorded on the Michael Nyman Band's The Essential Michael Nyman Band and The Composer's Cut Series Vol. II: Nyman/Greenaway Revisited. After Extra Time and The Very Best of Michael Nyman: 1990-2001 are reissues of the Essential and soundtrack versions, respectively. The work premiered on 15 June 1985.


Nyman utilized a death march in his earlier work Drowning by Numbers, and revives the scheme for Memorial, clearly setting death and its emotional impact as the main theme of the composition. Indeed, Nyman explicitly dedicated Memorial to the memory of the Juventus F.C. fans killed in the Heysel Stadium tragedy, in May 1985.

The composition borrowed a musical phrase from Baroque composer Henry Purcell's King Arthur, the prelude to "What Power Art Thou," sung by the Cold Genius in Act III, but the phrase is repeated in countless times, in a minimalist fashion. The composition is dominated for the first two-thirds by the string and horn sections, backed up by bass guitar, and a drummer. Soprano Sarah Leonard comes in only in the last third of section, and her performance mainly consists of long wordless complaints, adding a dramatic effect to the composition. Her song is continuously an octave higher than the rest of the orchestra, thus creating a haunting effect that suggests pain and sorrow.

The best known portion is in fact only the fifth movement. The sixth movement has been released on compact disc under the title "Images Were Introduced" on the album The Kiss and Other Movements. The second and fourth appear on the limited edition album, La Traversée de Paris. The other movements remain unreleased, and Nyman has described the work as "dismantled."[1]


The composition was described in the Guardian by Waldemar Januszczak as 'a small piece of atonement'.

It had a strong effect on movie director Peter Greenaway, who decided to model parts of his film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover on this composition. In fact, this composition is perhaps the best example of the integration of Nyman's music to Greenaway's work. The final sequence of the movie was entirely choreographed around the fifth movement. The sequence represents a procession bearing the body of The Lover, prepared by The Cook, served by The Wife as a dish for her husband, The Thief.

In the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games, the Russian ice dance duet Pasha Grishuk and Evgeni Platov use the music in their free dance, winning gold medal in the sport.

More recently, it was used in two documentaries, Man on Wire, and "Kijken in de Ziel" from Coen Verbraak.

The composition is used during the weekend news edition on Channel 2 (Israel).


  1. Michael Nyman. Liner notes. The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover
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