Johnston, Ben (b. March 15, 1926, Macon, Georgia). Esteemed American composer of mostly chamber, choral and vocal works that have been performed throughout the world.
Prof. Johnston earned his BFA at William and Mary College in 1949 and his MMus at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 1950 and then studied and worked with Harry Partch in Gualala, California. He also studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, where he earned his MFA in 1952, and studied privately with John Cage in New York City in 1959–60.
His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1959). He has received commissions from the American Music Center, the Concord String Quartet, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Festival of Contemporary Arts of the University of Illinois, the Fromm Foundation, ISCM, the Kronos Quartet, the New Century Saxophone Quartet, vocalist Dora Ohrenstein, Polish Radio, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, guitarist John Schneider, pianist Roger Shields, and the Smithsonian Institution, among other ensembles, institutions, orchestras, and soloists.
Prof. Johnston is also active in other positions. He organized the première of The Bewitched by Harry Partch in 1957. He has written more than a dozen articles for the journals Perspectives of New Music and Source, among other publications.
He taught acoustics, composition and music theory at the University of Illinois from 1951–83, where he was a professor from 1967–83 and where he has been professor emeritus since 1983. He also served as chairman of the Music Planning Committee of its Festival of Contemporary Arts from 1962–65.
Smith Publications publishes most of his music.
E-mail address for consulting scores: firstname.lastname@example.org
SELECT LIST OF WORKS
STAGE: The Wooden Bird (incidental music, play by Wilford Leach), 1950 (collaboration with Harry Partch); Fire (incidental music, play by A. Gregor), 1952; The Zodiac of Memphis Street (incidental music, play by Wilford Leach), 1954; Ring 'round the Moon (incidental music, play by Jean Anouilh), 1954; St. Joan (ballet), piano, 1955 (also concert version of one section as Passacaglia and Epilogue); Gertrude, or Would She Be Pleased to Receive it? (2 act chamber opera, libretto by Wilford Leach), 1956; Gambit (ballet, choreography by Merce Cunningham), 1959; The Taming of the Shrew (incidental music, play by William Shakespeare), 1961; Carmilla (chamber opera, libretto by Wilford Leach), 1970; Five Do-it-Yourself Pieces (theatre work), any number of players, 1969–81; Calamity Jane to Her Daughter, soprano, violin, synthesizer, drumkit, 1989
ORCHESTRAL: Ivesburg Revisited, jazz orchestra, 1960; Passacaglia and Epilogue, 1960 (concert version of section of St. Joan); Quintet for Groups, 1966; Diversion, small orchestra (11 players), 1979; Symphony in A, 1988; Chamber Symphony, small orchestra, 1990
CHAMBER MUSIC: Concerto for Brass, 1951; Septet, flute (+ piccolo), oboe (+ English horn), clarinet (+ bass clarinet), French horn, bassoon, cello, double bass, 1956–58; Diversions for Four, double bass, piano, vibraphone, percussion, 1959; String Quartet No. 1, 'Nine Variations', 1959; Duo, flute, double bass, 1963; Motet, 3 recorders, 1963; Non più, 3 recorders, 1963; String Quartet No. 2, 1964; String Quartet No. 3, 'Vergings', 1966 (may be performed together with String Quartet No. 4, 'Ascent' or 'Amazing Grace' as Crossings); One Man, trombone (+ percussion), 1967; String Quartet No. 4, 'Ascent' or 'Amazing Grace', 1973 (may be performed together with String Quartet No. 3, 'Vergings' as Crossings); Duo, 2 violins, 1978; Twelve Partials, flute, microtonal piano, 1978; String Quartet No. 5, 1979; String Quartet No. 6, 1980; Trio, clarinet, violin, cello, 1981; String Quartet No. 7, 1984; Toccata, cello, 1984; The Demon Lover's Doubles, trumpet, microtonal piano, 1985; String Quartet No. 8, 1984–86; Palindromes, snare drum, 1987; String Quartet No. 9, 1987–88; Ponder Nothing, clarinet/alto saxophone, 1989; Sextet, flute, string quartet, double bass, 1990; Pursuit, bassoon, tuba, 1992; Progression, double bass, 1993; Sleep and Waking, percussion ensemble, 1994 (collaboration with Ronald George); String Quartet No. 10, 1995; Alap, double bass, 1996; Nightreach, 4 saxophones, 1998–99; O Waly, Waly Variations, 4 saxophones, 1998–99; Octet, flute, clarinet, bassoon, string quartet, double bass, 1999–2000
CHORAL: Night (cantata, text by Robinson Jeffers), tenor, female chorus, small orchestra, 1955; Prayer, 3 female voices, 1966; Ci-Gît Satie (text by Sibyl Johnston), mixed chorus, double bass, drumkit, 1966; Rose (text by Sibyl Johnston), mixed chorus, 1971; Mass, mixed chorus, 8 trombones, percussion, 1972; I'm Goin' Away (text from an Appalachian folksong), mixed chorus, 1973; Visions and Spels (texts from Amerindian sources [translated by Jerome Rothenberg]), 6 improvisational mixed voices, 1976; Sonnets of Desolation (text by Gerard Manley Hopkins), 8 amplified mixed voices, 1980; Journeys, alto, mixed chorus, orchestra, 1986; On Love (text from the Bible), mixed chorus, 1986; Mantram and Raga, mixed chorus, 1993; Secret (text by Robert Bly), mixed chorus, 1994
VOCAL: Somewhere I have never traveled (text by e.e. cummings), tenor, piano, 1949; Le goût de néant (text by Charles Baudelaire), baritone, piano, 1950; A Nocturnal upon St. Lucie's Day (text by John Donne), baritone, piano, 1951; Three Chinese Lyrics (text by Rihaku [translated by Ezra Pound]), soprano, 2 violins, 1955; Five Fragments (text by Henry David Thoreau), alto, oboe, bassoon, cello, 1960; A Sea Dirge (text by William Shakespeare), mezzo-soprano, flute, oboe, violin, 1962; Songs of Innocence (text by William Blake), soprano, ensemble, 1975; Two Sonnets of Shakespeare, countertenor/bass-baritone, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, viola, double bass, 1978; Songs of Loss (text by John Donne), tenor, string quartet, double bass, 1986; Ma mie qui danse (texts by Mie Cecile Inouye, Emily Dickinson, adapted by the composer), soprano, microtonal piano, 1990; Legacy, soprano, violin, 1991; A man and a woman sit near each other (text by Robert Bly), baritone, clarinet, French horn, 1993; Quietness (text by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī [translated by Coleman Barks]), baritone-speaker, string quartet, 1996; Invocation (text by Farid al-Dīn Attar [translated by C.S. Nott]), soprano, string orchestra, 1997; The Tavern (text by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī [translated by Coleman Barks]), voice, microtonal guitar, 1999
PIANO: Celebration, 1953; Knocking Piece, piano (2 players), 1962; Sonata for Microtonal Piano, 1960–64; Suite for Microtonal Piano, 1978
ELECTROACOUSTIC: Kindergartenlieder, 2-track tape, 1969 (collaboration with Jaap Spek); Knocking Piece Collage, tape, 1969; Strata, tape, 1978 (collaboration with Bohdan Mazurek)
MULTIMEDIA: Museum Piece, tape, 1968 (collaboration with Jaap Spek); Auto Mobile (exhibition music), tape, 1968–69 (collaboration with Jaap Spek)
ARRANGEMENTS: Barstow (Harry Partch), voice, string quartet, 1994; Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales (Harry Partch), string quartet, 1994; U.S. Highball (Harry Partch), male voice, string quartet, 1997; various pieces (G.I. Gurdjieff-Thomas de Hartmann), 4 saxophones, 1998–99
(Last updated on January 17, 2003)