Author Topic: Ben Johnston  (Read 778 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3302
  • Location: Chicagoland
Ben Johnston
« on: February 18, 2019, 10:36:27 AM »
He doesn't have his own thread, so I'm starting one.

I have no recordings of him, so any opinions and recommendations are welcome. I gather his most famous work is his series of microtonal string quartets. Best place to start? How about any of his other music?
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Mirror Image

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 47353
  • Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
  • Location: Northeast GA, US
  • Currently Listening to:
    ...Mist floating above the water...
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2019, 10:56:03 AM »
Glad you started this thread as I’m wondering the same thing myself. I only know of his SQs, but I don’t have really any familiarity with them other then what I’ve read.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3302
  • Location: Chicagoland
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2019, 11:04:21 AM »
I only know of his SQs, but I don’t have really any familiarity with them other then what I’ve read.

I've YouTube'd a few of 'em. They sound really interesting, but the YouTube sound quality is probably hiding a lot of nuances. I've read that #7 is considered the most difficult string quartet to play ever.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Mirror Image

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 47353
  • Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
  • Location: Northeast GA, US
  • Currently Listening to:
    ...Mist floating above the water...
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2019, 11:09:55 AM »
I've YouTube'd a few of 'em. They sound really interesting, but the YouTube sound quality is probably hiding a lot of nuances. I've read that #7 is considered the most difficult string quartet to play ever.

Very nice. I’d imagine that microtonal music isn’t exactly something that most musicians are jumping up and down to perform. ;) :D
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Online Mandryka

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 12846
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2019, 11:28:02 AM »
I  like very much the earlier quartets and piano music, which are pretty serial sounding, the later ones are more post modernist -- they sound quite different. Whatever my view is on the way his music developed, I have to respect his commitment to the string quartet form. 

When you're exploring his music, apart from quartets and piano music, one thing I've enjoyed is this CD



Someone gave me a recording of his piano music, called  "microtonal piano music", if anyone wants it they can PM me.

There's also a good interview with him in this excellent book, where, amongst other things, he talks about his time working with Harry Partch in California.

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen

Offline Cato

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8863
  • An American Hero!
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2019, 01:56:05 PM »
Very nice. I’d imagine that microtonal music isn’t exactly something that most musicians are jumping up and down to perform. ;) :D



Sadly, it is too true!

It is one of the reasons why I gave up composing in that genre, although the possibilities in it are still so wonderful: I used 19-tone scales and the sonorities were extraterrestrial.




There's also a good interview with him in this excellent book, where, among other things, he talks about his time working with Harry Partch in California.


Harry Partch is another fascinating character who created fascinating music!


Here is a piano work by Ben Johnston:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/rFxWTLhYKEc" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/rFxWTLhYKEc</a>

"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)

Offline Mirror Image

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 47353
  • Claude Debussy (1862 - 1918)
  • Location: Northeast GA, US
  • Currently Listening to:
    ...Mist floating above the water...
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2019, 06:33:31 PM »
Sadly, it is too true!

It is one of the reasons why I gave up composing in that genre, although the possibilities in it are still so wonderful: I used 19-tone scales and the sonorities were extraterrestrial.

8)
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline TheGSMoeller

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 11393
  • Monkey Greg
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #7 on: February 18, 2019, 06:51:00 PM »
+1 for Ben Johnston.
I have several of his SQ discs, and I really enjoy them. I do also own the album below, which features six chamber works of Johnston...


Offline schnittkease

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 330
  • Location: Portland, OR
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #8 on: February 18, 2019, 09:44:04 PM »
Love the string quartets! They're all good, some leaning towards great.

Offline schnittkease

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 330
  • Location: Portland, OR
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2019, 07:50:10 PM »
R.I.P. Ben Johnston (1926-2019)

Offline Cato

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 8863
  • An American Hero!
Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2019, 10:56:43 AM »


Quote
The influential experimentalist Ben Johnston – described by our friend John Rockwell as ‘one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer’ – is being mourned by the new-music community. Word of his death has been posted by the composers Neely Bruce and Christopher Rouse.

A Georgian by birth, Johnston taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1951 to 1986. A pupil of John Cage, he worked with the experimentalist Harry Partch on building instruments from scrap and tuning them to his own requirements, though using to A=440 as his compass.

His 10 string quartets have all been recorded, along with a small body of orchestral works.

He was an American original.

See:

https://slippedisc.com/2019/07/death-of-americas-least-famous-composer-93/

Of more interest:

Quote


The nature of his writing has created a mystical aura around Mr. Johnston that has been further enhanced by his physical distance from the centers of American music-making. After spending much of his career teaching at the University of Illinois, he now lives on an isolated farm on the outskirts of Madison, Wis. As his failing health made travel increasingly difficult, the Kepler players moved closer to him, rehearsing in a church close to the farm — “literally in the midst of a cornfield, in the middle of a cemetery,” in Mr. Segnitz’s description — that over time became a focus of pilgrimage for musicologists curious to hear the realization of one of the most esoteric bodies of work in the chamber-music literature.

In a Skype interview from his home, Mr. Johnston was reluctant to talk about his music in other than mathematical terms, even as he conceded that the system of multiplication and division that is at the base of his tuning system “doesn’t sound terribly exciting.” Still, he continued, “it opens the doors to new sounds. Because I think of mathematics as a means to an end. It’s not a means that a lot of people admire, because it seems too schoolish, so classroomish.”


See:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/arts/music/players-are-wanted-for-ben-johnstons-works-some-sacrifice-is-required.html

And so...

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/gYsJNrLiYiM" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/gYsJNrLiYiM</a>
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

- Brian Aherne introducing Rosalind Russell in  My Sister Eileen (1942)