Ben Johnston (1926, American)

I knew Ben Johnston mainly as one of the great champions of micro-tonal and “just intonation” composition, but he’s also featured on the Kronos Quartet’s album “White Man Sleeps (with works of Kevin Volans, Charles Ives, Jon Hassell, Thomas Oboe Lee, Ornette Coleman, Béla Bartók) on Elektra Nonesuch 979 163-2 (1987) or 7559-79163-2, with his Fourth String Quartet, “Amazing Grace” (1973), which doesn’t sound AT ALL like that, and much more like the kind of gentle, sweet and pretty derivation from folk music that, say, Gavin Bryars or Michael Nyman might have composed. That at least is the way it starts, but after circa 5 minutes, some episodes become more intricate and vehemently lyrical, with wonderful sonic invention, while retaining great melodic appeal. The micro-tonal Johnston can be recognized in the unusual and sensuous melodies, with some vaguely Gipsy-, or Oriental-sounding flourishes. Makes me want to catch up with the music of Johnston and especially his other String Quartets on three New World Records CDs.

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