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Ben Johnston


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Benjamin Burwell Johnston, Junior (born March 15, 1926 in Macon, Georgia) is a composer of contemporary music in the just intonation system.

Johnston taught composition and theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1951 to 1983. Johnston began as a traditional composer of art music before working with Harry Partch, helping the senior musician to build instruments and use them in the performance and recording of new compositions. After working with Partch, Johnston studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. It was in fact Partch himself who arranged for Johnston to study with Milhaud (Duckworth 1995, 122). It should be noted that Johnston struggled with just how to integrate just intonation into his compositions for a number of years. Since 1960 Johnston has used, almost exclusively, a system of microtonal notation based on the rational intervals of just intonation. Johnston also worked with John Cage, who encouraged him to pursue the composition of just-tuned music for traditional instruments.

Other works include the orchestral work Quintet for Groups (commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Sonnets of Desolation (commissioned by the Swingle Singers), the opera Carmilla, the Sonata for Microtonal Piano (1964) and the Suite for Microtonal Piano (1977). Johnston has completed ten string quartets to date.

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  • Lakret

    Great music. Hopefully, more people will explore his art.

    27 Aug 2011 Reply
  • zastari

    I'm surprised that more people haven't been introduced to his work. His string quartets are so radical yet accessible.

    15 Feb 2011 Reply
  • thefletch7786

    As a bass player, I'm glad Casta Bertram is his top track, but as a music fan, i'm very sad about the paucity of listeners

    31 Mar 2010 Reply
  • mathanretik

    Really one of the most fascinating contemporary composers, I love the 77 suite and all his microtonal music.

    28 May 2009 Reply

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