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Desert Music by Steve Reich: A Guide to the Score, the Text, and the Music

Steve Reich Desert Music Score Pdf 31

Are you a fan of minimalist music? Do you want to explore one of the most influential works by Steve Reich, one of the pioneers of the genre? Do you want to get your hands on the score of his masterpiece, Desert Music, in PDF format? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about Desert Music, from its background and inspiration, to its structure and notation, to its performance and appreciation. We will also show you how to get the score in PDF format, and why it is 31 pages long. By the end of this article, you will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of this amazing piece of music.

Steve Reich Desert Music Score Pdf 31


What is Desert Music?

Desert Music is a large-scale orchestral work by American composer Steve Reich, written between 1982 and 1984. It is based on texts by William Carlos Williams, a poet who wrote about the American desert landscape and its symbolism. The title of the piece comes from one of his poems, The Orchestra, which reads:

"Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant

to know how to realize his wishes.

Now that he can realize them,

he must either change them

or perish."

Reich was inspired by these words, as well as by his own experience of visiting the desert in California and Israel. He wanted to create a musical expression of the vastness, beauty, and mystery of the desert, as well as its relevance to the human condition. He also wanted to explore the contrast between silence and sound, which he felt was characteristic of both the desert and his music.

How to get the score in PDF format?

If you are interested in getting the score of Desert Music in PDF format, you have several options. One option is to buy it from an online music store, such as Sheet Music Plus or Presto Music. You can order a digital copy that you can download and print at home. Another option is to borrow it from a library or a friend who has a physical copy. You can then scan it or take photos of it and convert them into PDF files using an app or a software. A third option is to search for it on the internet. There are some websites that offer free downloads of scores in PDF format, such as IMSLP or Scribd. However, you should be careful about the quality and legality of these sources, as they may not be authorized or accurate.

Why is the score 31 pages long?

You may wonder why the score of Desert Music is 31 pages long, considering that it is a minimalist piece that uses repetition and variation as its main compositional techniques. The reason is that Reich used a complex and innovative system of notation to write his music. He did not use conventional staff notation with clefs, key signatures, time signatures, or bar lines. Instead, he used a grid-like notation that shows the rhythmic patterns and pitches of each instrument in relation to a fixed pulse. He also used symbols and abbreviations to indicate dynamics, articulations, phrasing, and other musical instructions. The result is a score that looks like a mathematical puzzle, but that allows the performers to play with precision and flexibility.

How to perform Desert Music?

Desert Music is a challenging piece to perform, both technically and musically. It requires a large ensemble of 86 musicians, including 4 vocal soloists, a chorus of 24 singers, and a symphony orchestra of 58 players. The piece is divided into five movements, each with a different combination of instruments and voices. The duration of the piece is about 50 minutes, depending on the tempo chosen by the conductor. The piece is written in a rhythmic style that Reich calls "phasing", which means that the same pattern is played by different instruments at slightly different speeds, creating a shifting and overlapping effect. The performers have to follow the score carefully and listen to each other attentively, as well as to a click track that provides the pulse. The piece also demands a high level of stamina and concentration, as there are no breaks or pauses between the movements.

How to appreciate Desert Music?

Desert Music is a piece that can be appreciated on different levels, depending on your background and interest. If you are familiar with the poetry of William Carlos Williams, you can enjoy the way Reich sets his words to music, using different vocal techniques and effects, such as speech, singing, whispering, shouting, and chanting. You can also appreciate the thematic and symbolic connections between the texts and the music, such as the contrast between life and death, war and peace, noise and silence. If you are interested in the musical aspects of the piece, you can focus on the rhythmic and harmonic structures that Reich creates, using simple elements such as pulses, patterns, chords, and intervals. You can also notice how he develops and transforms these elements throughout the piece, creating variations, contrasts, transitions, and climaxes. If you are simply looking for an emotional response to the piece, you can let yourself be immersed in the sound world that Reich evokes, which is both hypnotic and expressive. You can feel the tension and release, the calmness and excitement, the joy and sadness that the music conveys.

What are some reviews and critiques of Desert Music?

Desert Music has received mixed reviews and critiques since its premiere in 1984. Some critics praised it as a masterpiece of minimalist music, a powerful and original expression of Reich's musical vision. They admired its complexity and coherence, its beauty and intensity, its relevance and impact. Some examples of positive reviews are:

"A work of such originality that it seems to define a new genre."

  • - Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"A magnificent achievement...a landmark in 20th-century music."

  • - Andrew Clements, The Guardian

"A stunning work...a masterpiece of musical integration."

  • - John Rockwell, Los Angeles Times

Other critics disliked it as a boring and repetitive piece of music, a failed attempt to combine poetry and music. They criticized its length and monotony, its lack of melody and harmony, its irrelevance and pretentiousness. Some examples of negative reviews are:

"A tedious exercise in musical wallpaper...a colossal bore."

  • - Martin Bernheimer, The Financial Times

"A disappointing work...a waste of time and talent."

  • - Robert Everett-Green, The Globe and Mail

"A dismal work...a musical desert."

  • - Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe

What are some other works by Steve Reich?

If you enjoyed Desert Music or want to explore more works by Steve Reich, you have plenty of options to choose from. Reich is one of the most prolific and influential composers of our time. He has written music for various genres and media, such as chamber music, orchestral music, vocal music, opera, film music, video art, dance music, etc. He has also collaborated with many artists from different fields and cultures. Some of his most famous works are:

  • Music for 18 Musicians (1976), a landmark piece for ensemble that uses pulsing chords and interlocking patterns.

  • Different Trains (1988), a Grammy-winning piece for string quartet and tape that juxtaposes recordings of train sounds and voices from World War II.

  • The Cave (1993), a multimedia opera that combines live music with video projections of interviews about Abraham's family.

), a rhythmic piece for percussion instruments that uses phasing and polyrhythms.

  • Electric Counterpoint (1987), a piece for electric guitar and tape that creates a complex texture of layered melodies.

  • It's Gonna Rain (1965), one of his earliest pieces that uses tape loops of a preacher's voice to create a musical effect.


In conclusion, Desert Music is a fascinating and challenging piece of music by Steve Reich, one of the most important composers of our time. It is based on texts by William Carlos Williams, a poet who wrote about the American desert and its meaning. It is written in a minimalist style that uses repetition and variation to create rhythmic and harmonic structures. It is performed by a large ensemble of singers and instrumentalists who have to follow a complex and innovative notation system. It is a piece that can be appreciated on different levels, depending on your interest and background. It is also a piece that has received mixed reviews and critiques, reflecting its originality and controversy. If you want to get the score of Desert Music in PDF format, you can buy it online, borrow it from a library or a friend, or search for it on the internet. However, you should be careful about the quality and legality of the sources you use. We hope that this article has given you some useful information and insights about Desert Music, and that you will enjoy listening to or playing this amazing piece of music.