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Ben Johnston String Quartets
Ben Johnston, Kepler Quartet
Ben Johnston String Quartets
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1

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 trad...  more »


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CD Details

All Artists: Ben Johnston, Kepler Quartet
Title: Ben Johnston String Quartets
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: New World Records
Original Release Date: 1/3/2006
Release Date: 1/3/2006
Genre: Classical
Styles: Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830)
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 093228063728


Album Description
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 Universe Symphony, 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. All the quartets have been performed in public (with one exception, the immensely difficult String Quartet No. 7), but only four have previously been recorded. 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.

CD Reviews

I am not the person to write this review...
greg taylor | Portland, Oregon United States | 03/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"but until someone who is expert at explaining contemporary classical music does review it, I will just have to do. For this is very much a CD that deserves to be discussed and listened to.
I came to these quartets by Johnston with a little trepidation. Johnston has a reputation as a learned theorist. I have read that these quartets are more studied than played for Johnston's ability to, e.g., take a Partchian microtonal scale and apply serialist methods to it in a composition. Furthermore, he somehow takes that microtone series as implying a certain rhythmic sequence which is used in the piece. And let's not forget that the whole thing is in just intonation. Yikes! It all sounded so fierce.
And some of it is. And some of it has an amazingly simple beauty to it as well. The third movement of the 9th quartet, entitled simply "Slow, expressive", is like something Bach would have written if he were around to play with compositional material like this. (And anyone who doesn't think that Bach would have been playing with these kind of compositional techniques if he were alive today needs to go back and listen to more Bach).
String Quartet No. 4, The Ascent, uses Amazing Grace as the base melodic material. Bob Gilmore's liner notes talk about the three different tunings (all a type of just intonation)used in the piece. These create a "pitch world" (Gilmore's term)which seems microtonal even when it is not. Interesting stuff. But what is even more interesting to me is how Johnston creates stirring variations of that great theme. The man doesn't want us just to hear his experiments- he knows how to get us to want to hear his experiments.
I fear I may not be explaining my reaction to this CD well. This is deeply varied, beautiful and grave music. The Kepler String Quartet apparently coalesced around a performance of one of Johnston's string quartets. The composer is working with them and their intent is to issue two more volumes that will include the rest of Johnston's oeuvre in this genre. Amen to that. The twentieth centure gave us some magnificent string quartet cycles. Johnston, the Kepler Quartet and New World Records may be adding to that number."