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Music Essays
electronic music pioneers part 1 electronic music pioneers part 2
steve reich - minimalist a short history of the american composer

Different Trains
different trains - part one introduction and the use of music technology
different trains - part two thematic development
different trains - part three thematic development and continuity
different trains - part four dynamics and conclusions
different trains - table 1 tables 1.a. to 1.c
different trains - table 2 tables 2.a. to 2.g



different trains

part two - thematic development



Thematic Development

Let's now turn our attention to the thematic development in "Different Trains". As a general comment, Reich utilises the material that is latent in the diction. There are a few instances in the third movement which would at first appear to contradict this observation, I trust we shall see that even these examples may originally spring from the words.

This form of development is in keeping with minimalist thought, indeed, with Reich's philosophy about composition. Reich has long been an admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a twentieth-century philosopher. In his first major work, "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", Wittgenstein states,
"What we can not speak about we must pass over in silence"

(Wittgenstein, L. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, {London: 1921})
As Robert Cohan observes, Wittgenstein’s thought and Reich’s music are closely comparable. (see Cohan's writing in Reich and Wittgenstein, Tempo, {London: June 1986}). Both are concerned with speaking only about that which is observable. If there is no suitable definition for an occurrence, then this can not remain in the area of philosophy: if there are musical notes not contained within the mode of the theme, these are deemed irrelevant. Hence Reich's avoidance of performance improvisation (see Reich's Writings About Music, pages 46-47).


First Movement - America Before The War

The structure of "Different Trains" is built upon the repetition of thematic ideas. In "From Chicago to New York" the vocal sample recording not only consists of repetition of it's fragments, but when announced again (later in this movement) remains virtually unchanged. Whilst greater tension is generated by employing more "whistle" sounds, the structure itself is almost the same as the first entry (see table 2a. and 2.b., and the following music example:-)

Different Trains ex 3

(this notation, and subsequent examples, are an interpretation of the music by ear - it may not be strictly accurate)


Musical continuity is further aided by thematic repetition across the movements. “One of the fastest trains”, when repeated in movement three (see table 2c. and 2d.) retains the structure of the first entry while developing harmonically with moving bass notes, and substituting sampled words for its musical equivalent (with "fastest trains"). It is also worth noting that Reich does not always notate the exact intonation of the text. Compare music example four (Reich's composition) with music example five (an exact representation of the diction):-

Different Trains Music Example 4

Different Trains Music Example 5


Second Movement: Europe - During The War


It would appear that to allow for the documentary nature of "Different Trains" to take precedence, the second movement mainly consists of shorter elements. They are mostly between ten and fifteen seconds long, the average repeat of a sample being between two and three times (see table lb.). The first part of this section contains little repetition, as a glance at music example six and table 2e. reveals:-


Different Trains Music Example 6

By the end of the movement the elements become more complex. "They tattooed a number on our arm" (see table 2f. and the following music example) is an instance of elaborate repetition:-

Different Trains Music Example 7

It also contains an interesting musical motif drawn from "They tattooed a":-

Different Trains Music Example 8




different trains p.1 - p.2 - p.3 - p.4


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