Skip to page content

About this Piece

As opposed to the first half of the 20th century, filled with distress and war, Terry Riley (b. 1935) sees the beginning of Minimalism as the high point of the century in terms of people truly wanting to be free from artistic and other constraints. Riley was born in California, and studied with Seymour Shifrin at UC Berkeley before going on to work with Pandit Pran Nath, a master of Indian classical voice. Riley was also a product of the "Pacific Rim" of the West Coast, and was influenced by Middle-Eastern music and jazz piano, as well as by Minimalist forerunner La Monte Young. Riley's work In C influenced the other composers of the time, and was the piece that brought Minimalism to prominence. (see notes on In C).

Ragtempus Fugatis (1994) is part of the larger work The Heaven Ladder, which Riley wrote at the request of pianist Gloria Cheng. It is unlike many of his early Minimal works, which were based on improvising through a series of modal figures. Ragtempus Fugatis is a clever synthesis of ragtime and counterpoint. Riley is a very skilled pianist himself; this shows in his approach to the instrument, which is quite physical. The movement lurches along with its ragtime episodes interrupting the fugal inversions and strettos. Despite its stylistic differences from Riley's early works, Ragtempus Fugatis still has a kind of sensuality that permeates much of tonight's program.

- Jessie Rothwell is the Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also writes music, plays the oboe, and sings Bulgarian folk music.