Max Richter: The Music of Journeys

You will almost certainly have heard the music of the German-born British composer, Max Richter on YouTube or Spotify. He is renowned for his ability to translate profound human emotions into music that defies genres. often blending both classical and modern sounds to create music that is at times orchestral, at times digital, often a marriage of the two. Not surprisingly, his compositions have been compared with the works of post-minimalist composers like John Cage and Steve Reich. With his catalogue now surpassing 3 billion streams, Richter is the world’s most streamed “classical” music composer, and he continues to set the standard for what is possible for composers in the 21st century.

Richter was born in 1966 in Hamelin, north-west Germany, but grew up in Bedford in the UK. At age 13, he built his first synthesiser by soldering together electrical components after being smitten by electronic music of the German electro-music band, Kraftwer. He studied piano and composition at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Academy of Music, completing his studies with the experimental composer and electronic pioneer Luciano Berio in Florence. For a time he earned a living as a pianist, and collaborated with British electronic group The Future Sound of London and the DJ Roni Size.

Now, thirty years on, Richter is still very much spanning the musical spectrum. He has recently built a new studio with his artist partner Yulia Mahr deep in the Oxfordshire countryside. Calling it their “art farm”, it is a huge, light-filled space with a Yamaha grand piano at one end and an Apple computer and Moog System 55 synthesiser at the other. “We can do any sort of recording here,” he says of the studio, an expansive old barn that was once part of an alpaca farm. The original structure is now divided into separate rooms for both Richter and Mahr.

By any standards it’s an impressive building, with floor-to-ceiling windows giving views straight into the surrounding forest. But compared to the setup of most modern recording studios it’s practically cathedral-like. Aside from it being a base where Richter can both compose and record, the idea is to make the studio available to others, particularly emerging artists and young musicians struggling to afford a studio, or even a place in which to experiment and create.

The recording studio in Oxfordshire built by Richter and his partner Yulia Mahr.
Huts outside the Oxfordshire studio. The space is open to others, particularly emerging artists and young musicians to visit and stay over.

Selected Compositions of Max Richter

Embers (2002)- one of the four tracks used in the six-part 2005 BBC documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution produced by Laurence Rees.

On the Nature of Daylight (2004) – From the album, The Blue Notebook, “On the Nature of Daylight” is one of Richter’s most famous compositions. It began life in 2003 as part of his second album, The Blue Notebooks, and was a heartfelt and emotional response to the outbreak of the Iraq War. The track has inspired artists of many different disciplines and Richter has endorsed its use in select films and TV shows including the Sci-fi film, Arrival, The Handmaid’s Tale and Shutter Island. Here’s a new recording of this popular Ritcher piece.

Sleep (2015) is an eight-and-a-half hour concept album based around the neuroscience of sleep. It was released on September 4, 2015 to worldwide acclaim. A new version of the album, Sleep: Tranquility Base was released in March 2023. Here is one track from this new version.

Exiles (Short Edit, 2021) – Profoundly moved by the tragedy of the Syrian migrant crisis, Richter chose to channel his compassion into a piece for Nederlands Dans Theater. His ballet score Exiles grew from a conversation with the Dutch company’s resident choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. The following video is “Flowers of Herself” from the album Exiles, performed by the Baltic Sea Philharmonic.


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