A prolific composer, Michael Nyman has created unique soundtracks for such features as "The Draughtsman's Contract" (1982), "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" (1991) and Jane Campion's "The Piano" (1993). The London-born Nyman studied at the Royal Academy of Music and King's College in the early 1960s. He worked variously as a music critic, lecturer, writer and performer, gradually receiving small composing commissions. In 1977, he formed his own permanent performing ensemble, The Michael Nyman Band. He has composed for a wide range of international media and artists.
As a film composer, Nyman has worked extensively with director Peter Greenaway, beginning with their first collaboration on the experimental short "A Walk Through H" (1973). Subsequent collaborations followed on documentaries ("The Falls" 1980, "Modern American Composers I" 1984), experimental films ("Verical Feaures Remake" 1978, "A Zed and Two Noughts" 1985, "Death in the Seine" 1989), and features ("The Draughtman's Contract", "Drowning By Numbers" 1988, "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and "Prospero's Books" 1989). Nyman has stated that he enjoyed the almost unprecedented freedom allowed him by Greenaway. He composed long sequences of music to which the director would edit the film. For "The Draughtsman's Contract", Nyman adapted and transposed baroque compositions by Henry Purcell, creating an abrasive, modern, minimalist score. He reportedly was angry about the use of his compositions in "Prospero's Books" and severed his ties with Greenaway. ("The relationship is quiescent," Nyman told Rob Ryan in GQ magazine.)
Besides doing the occasional soundtrack for a TV-movie ("The Cold Room", HBO 1984), he collaborated with Sting on the music for Richard Loncraine's "Brimstone and Treacle" (1982), and composed the score for the operatic adaptation of Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", which director Christopher Rawlence filmed in 1988. Nyman wrote soundtracks for French director Patrice Leconte's thriller "Monsieur Hire" (1989) and his romance "The Hairdresser's Husband" (1990).
Director Jane Campion commissioned Nyman to write the score for "The Piano" (1993), which the composer found challenging. Not only did he need to provide thematic cues for the audience, he also had to provide a voice for the mute leading character Ada (Holly Hunter) who "speaks" when she plays her piano. Nyman used popular Scottish songs as the basis for his compositions which were tailored to Hunter's performing abilities and to the repertoire of the 19th Century. Because the actress played the work in a softer style than Nyman's, he has claimed that Hunter "discovered all the life and passion beneath the surface of the music." Although the film's music was integral to its success, its score was overlooked for Oscar consideration.
Nyman has also provided the haunting score for Diane Kurys' dark drama about twisted sybling rivalry, "Six Days, Six Nights", and the biopic "Mesmer" (both 1994). Christopher Hampton chose him to create the soundtrack for "Carrington" (1995), which was adapted from themes form Nyman's String Quartet No. 3. (In fact, Hampton had used this and other Nyman compositions on a rough cut of the film.) Although he does not consider himself to be primarily a film composer, Nyman has continued to work in that medium. He has scored Volker Schlondorff's "The Ogre" and provided a forty minute symphony for Jane Campion's "Portrait of a Lady" (both 1996).