Musical Persona: The Use of Human Speech in the Music of Steve Reich



Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Creative Arts


School of Music

Committee Chair

Christopher Wilkinson.


From his earliest works to his most recent ones, Steve Reich has found ways to incorporate human speech into his music. The natural melodic qualities of the human voice, which he called "speech-melody," interested him from the beginning of his musical career. In his early tape pieces, Reich manipulated recordings of human voices in order to create varied melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic patterns. Later, he used such recordings for both their melodic content and subject matter in Different Trains (1988), The Cave (1993), City Life (1995), Three Tales (2002), and WTC 9/11 (2011).;Using human speech as a foundation, Reich composed works that are both musically complex and rich in meaning. Most of his speech-melody pieces focus on events of sociopolitical and historical relevance, such as the Holocaust, the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, or the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Each of the aforementioned works is unique in musical content and subject matter, but there are also distinct similarities among them.;A survey of Reich's history, personal interests, and musical output provides one with an understanding of how these works were conceptualized and composed, where they fit into the composer's repertory, how they reflect his personal experiences and developing musical style, and how they relate to one another. These interrelationships indicate that speech-melody is a vitally important element of Reich's musical expression that has surfaced continually in his works.