Can You Hear Coldplay in Steve Reich?

Recently, as I was listening to the thrilling final four minutes of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, I began to hear subtle echoes of Viva la Vida by the British alternative rock band, Coldplay. Take a moment and compare the pulsating rhythm and harmonic progressions in both examples and see if you agree.

Interestingly, both pieces appear to have been written around the same time. (Viva la Vida was released on June 13, 2008 while the Double Sextet, written in 2007, was premiered by Eighth Blackbird at the University of Richmond on March 26, 2008). Coldplay has been accused of plagiarism in the past, but that’s obviously not what’s happening here. Perhaps these particular sounds were just “in the air” in 2007? More importantly, the similarities highlight the subtle pop undertones in Steve Reich’s music, as well as the clear influence of minimalism on Coldplay. In 2014, post-minimalist composer Nico Muhly wrote an admiring review of Coldplay’s Ghost Stories album. The gradually emerging, repetitive patterns three minutes into the song, Midnight on that album don’t seem far removed from similar patterns in Steve Reich’s Eight Lines. 

If Steve Reich’s earlier music was based on a pulse as persistently steady and unflinching as a disco beat, many of his later works (the rock-inspired 2×5for example) grow out of a complex, irregular heartbeat. This is what we hear in the 2009-Pulitzer-Prize-winning Double Sextet. It’s music which reflects the unrelenting hustle of a large city where multiple pulsating parts blend to create a vibrant whole- exhilaratingly chaotic, yet eternal.

As with contemporary pop music, there’s an infectious sense of swing inherent to Steve Reich’s music. The best performances of Reich’s music revel in this satisfying feeling of “groove.” That’s what unfolds in this electrifying 2015 Vancouver, BC performance of Reich’s Double Sextet by Ensemble Paramirabo and the Thin Edge New Music Collective. Navigating the constant meter changes of this piece seems to be an exercise in intense collective focus:

Recordings

  • Reich: Double Sextet, Ensemble Signal, Brad Lubman iTunes
  • Coldplay: complete discography iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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