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New York Counterpoint: movement II By Steve Reich Analysis

Below is a complete analysis of the A2 Music work New York Counterpoint: movement II looking at all the elements of music with some taster questions at the end. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you. This piece is a minimalist piece of music: Steve Reich led the surge in minimalist music with pieces such as this one and electric counterpoint.

Be sure to check out the other A2 musical pieces and AS musical pieces I have analysed on Ask Will Online.


  • The key signature states the piece is in the key of B major. However, there is an extra sharp (being on the 4th). Therefore, the key is a lydian mode on E.
  •  Bars 39-45 features a tonality of F sharp major with a G in the base.


  • Section 1 lasts from bars 1-26.
  • Section 2 lasts from bars 27-65.
  • The phrasing of the bars change from 6-8-6 and so on.
  • The counterpoint fades towards the en in dynamic and texture.


  • There is a four part harmony chord at bar 26 in Clarinets 7-10 which uses a D sharp only for homo-rhythmic pulsations. The pulsations dynamically fade in and out.
  • At bars 33-38 the chords are based on 4ths.


  • The basis of the melody in this piece is on a six note scale.

Rhythm and Meter

  • At bar 14, the live Clarinet and Clarinet 1 are a whole beat out of phrase.
  • The piece is in triple meter – the pulse is not easy to detect.


  • A counterpoint is a type of polyphonic motif repeated and cannoned.
  • More parts are added at bar 9.


  • This piece uses no other instruments other than the Clarinet. The soloist has pre-recorded eight Clarinets and two bass Clarinets and has then a final solo Clarinet playing over the top. 
How do the clarinets parts in the first two bars relate to each other?

The two clarinet parts in the first two bars are playing with a homorhythmic texture in 11ths.

How do the parts played by clarinet 5 and the live clarinettist in bars 3-6 relate to the music heard in bars 1-2?

The music in bars 3-6 is exactly the same as that in bars 1-2. The only difference is that there is a bar pauses between each melodic bar.

In which bar does the live clarinettist start playing material unrelated to the pre-recorded tracks?

The live clarinettist starts playing unrelated material to the pre-recorded tracks at bar 5.

Define what is meant by phrasing, giving an example from bar 21 onwards in NAM 12.

Phrasing is when the music is divided into a specific way especially for performances. An example of this is at bars 9-10 where the phrasing of the melody lines is two bars long.

Twentieth-century music is often divided into tonal and atonal styles. Is NAM 12 tonal or atonal?

NAM 12 is neither tonal or atonal. Instead, it uses the lydian mode on E (B with five sharps plus an extra sharp on the 4th).

Most of the melodic material in NAM 12 derives from the motif heard in its first two bars. How does Reich create variety in this movement?

Reich managed to create variety in the movement by adapting the melody line between parts, playing a live clarinet with a constantly varying melody and by including a tonic pedal of C# in the bass.

To what extent do you feel that playing to a backing tape in New York Counterpoint compromises the spontaneity of live performance?

I think it comprises it significantly. There are nine clarinets pre-recorded which makes it difficult to hear the live clarinet. As well, the repeating melodies in the pre-recorded clarinets will make it difficult for the live clarinet to change his melody making it hard for the live clarinet to be spontaneous.


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