Author Topic: Ben Johnston  (Read 1285 times)

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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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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?
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Offline Mirror Image

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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.
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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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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

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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 create rules; rules do not create works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline Mandryka

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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.

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Offline Cato

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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" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/rFxWTLhYKEc</a>

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Offline Mirror Image

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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 create rules; rules do not create works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline TheGSMoeller

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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

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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

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Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2019, 07:50:10 PM »
R.I.P. Ben Johnston (1926-2019)

Offline Cato

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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" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/gYsJNrLiYiM</a>
"Meet Miss Ruth Sherwood, from Columbus, Ohio, the Middle of the Universe!"

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2020, 08:57:08 PM »


I wonder what was going on for Johnston at the time of writing Quartets 6,7 and 8. Does anyone have the booklet to see if it says anything?

I find the music here really challenging, often dull and heavy. I enjoy quartet 5 before and I enjoy Quartet 9 after?
« Last Edit: February 23, 2020, 09:02:04 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline T. D.

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Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2020, 09:23:07 PM »


I wonder what was going on for Johnston at the time of writing Quartets 6,7 and 8. Does anyone have the booklet to see if it says anything?

I find the music here really challenging, often dull and heavy. I enjoy quartet 5 before and I enjoy Quartet 9 after?

I have the CD set w. booklets. No biographical details on 6, 7, 8. But the booklet says that 6 and 7 are exceedingly difficult to play. The 6th uses 12-tone technique and winds up "requiring 61 different pitches per octave to accommodate all the row forms". It is also a complex palindrome of sorts.
"Still, in terms of difficulty, the Sixth Quartet pales in comparison to its successor. The Seventh...has a reputation as the most difficult quartet ever written." (Many more structural details given).

But "After this, the Eighth... - the beginning of the neoclassic phase in Johnston's output for the medium - is far more accessible at first hearing."

I haven't listened for a while...do you find 8 similarly heavy to 6 and 7?
Of the 3 discs, I prefer the volume with #2, 3, 4 and 9. I find the 12-tone works and the super-complex ones (6 and 7) much tougher to listen to, and the late "neoclassical" ones more "accessible".

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Ben Johnston
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2020, 12:44:48 AM »
Interesting,  I enjoyed 8 more than 6 and 7, but I found 5 and  9 more interesting than 8. That being said, I will definitely   give 6,7 and especially 8 another try.
« Last Edit: February 24, 2020, 04:39:04 AM by Mandryka »
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