Index of Artists
Browse by Artist: JOHNSTON, BEN
String Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 4 & 9
NEW WORLD RECORDS
Performed by Kepler Quartet. "Ben Johnston's (b. 1926) music has reached a wide and diverse audience, both at home and abroad, without compromising its high seriousness or its depth of philosophic purpose. His music shows the confluence of several traditions of music-making that have flourished within the United States. In the 1950s his output was characterized by the neoclassicism of his teacher Darius Milhaud. In the 1960s he explored serial techniques and, at the end of the decade, indeterminacy. From 1960 onward the overriding technical preoccupation of his music has been its use of just intonation, the tuning system of the music of ancient cultures as well as that of many living traditions worldwide. Johnston is a pioneer in the use of microtones and non-tempered tuning, rationalizing and going beyond Harry Partch's achievements in this domain. His ten string quartets are among the most fascinating collections of work ever produced by an American composer. And yet, like similarly imposing peaks in the American musical landscape -- Ives's
, for example, or the
Studies for Player Piano
of Conlon Nancarrow -- these works have, for decades now, remained more known about than known, more talked about than played. The scores have been analyzed by musicologists and theorists fascinated by their fusion of advanced compositional techniques (serialism with just intonation, for example; microtonality with a kind of neoclassical revisionism), but they have been too little heard. The Kepler Quartet's recordings -- this disc is the first of a series of three, prepared with Johnston's active support and supervision -- offer lively and scrupulously accurate readings that unlock the door to these marvelous pieces. Like Ives and Nancarrow before him, there is the sense that Johnston's time has finally come."
String Quartets Nos. 1, 5, & 10
NEW WORLD RECORDS
Performed by the Kepler Quartet. "This disc, with premiere recordings of Ben Johnston's first, fifth and tenth string quartets, presents his earliest and latest essays in the genre and one from roughly the middle of his output. The three pieces are highly different from one another in style, technique and expressive intent. Johnston's
String Quartet No. 1, 'Nine Variations'
(1959) manifests his belief in the progressive nature of serialism and embraces it as a satisfying means of creating musical order. There is no theme per se: each of the work's brief sections may be thought of as a transformation of an underlying idea that is never directly stated.
String Quartet No. 5
(1979) is one of Johnston's most impressive achievements, music of radical innovation that speaks an expressive and engaging language with a visionary intensity reminiscent of Ives. It is a single-movement variation form based on 'Lonesome Valley,' an old Appalachian traditional gospel song of unknown authorship. By the time he embarked on
String Quartet No. 10
in 1995 his music had evolved yet again. Johnston's use of extended just intonation was a way of revivifying tonal relations in music without lapsing into a nostalgic appropriation of idioms from an earlier era, which has always seemed to him a kind of escapism, and aesthetically negligible. Listening to the tenth quartet, especially on first encounter, we may feel as though we have entered a parallel universe in which Haydn has become a microtonalist with a predilection for complex proportional rhythms. The whole history of Western music flashes before our eyes -- almost literally so in the last movement -- but with all the colors different: seasons, decades and centuries all tumble into one another. Composer-supervised recordings."
Index of Artists