On The Fiddle : Work information

Michael Nyman ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Jonathan Carney (Conductor)

This work

Work name
On The Fiddle
Work number
1993-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Alan Peters
Dick Lewzey
Recording date

Track listing

  • Full Fathom Five 5:05 min
  • Angelfish Decay 3:05 min
  • Miserere Paraphrase 7:14 min


On the Fiddle was originally written for violin and piano, but was subsequently orchestrated by Nyman. It's a collection of three pieces that alternate slow and fast music drawn from Nyman's scores for Peter Greenway films. The unifying title On the Fiddle refers to illegal street gamblers who would use a fiddle player to play fast music to warn them of passing policemen.

A setting of a Shakesperian lyric from the 1990 film Prospero's Books provides the material for Full Fathom Five.

Angelfish Decay draws on music used to accompany time-lapse photography of a decaying animal in the 1985 film A Zed And Two Noughts.

The last piece, Miserere Paraphrase is an arrangement of a Psalm 51 setting used in the 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover.  

The Composers

Michael Nyman

Michael Nyman was born in London on 23rd March 1944.  He studied at the Royal College of Music and at King's College, London, where he learned about the 16th and 17th century rounds and canons whose repetitive contrapuntal structures would influence his music.  When he graduated, Nyman felt detached from both popular music and current compositional methods, so didn't continue composing.  He performed though, and worked as a music critic, introducing 'minimalism' as a musical description in his review of composer Cornelius Cardew.  In 1974 he wrote the influential book 'Experimental Music - Cage and Beyond' about the effect of John Cage's work on subsequent composers and performers.

Two years later Nyman accepted an offer from Harrison Birtwistle at the National Theatre to arrange a set of 18th century Venetian songs for medieval instruments .  When the production finished, Nyman carried on composing to keep the musicians playing together, and they continued as the Michael Nyman band.  A collaborative relationship with director Peter Greenaway began in 1982 when Nyman wrote the score to his film The Draughtsman's Contract, and he went on to score The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Prospero's Books (1991).  Nyman's best known work so far is the score to Jane Campion's film The Piano (1992).

Apart from film work though, Nyman has written opera, chamber music, vocal music and dance scores.  His music is typified by its insistent repetition and rich instrumentation, and themes that are reworked over several separate compositions.  Bartok, Mozart and Schumann have influenced several of Nyman's works - the latter was the major inspiration for the chamber opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986)

Related composers: Bartok, Mozart, Schumann, Cage