Ben  Johnston

Ben Johnston

Ben Johnston was born in 1926 in Macon, Georgia. He taught composition and music theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 1951 until his retirement in 1986.

During that time, he was in contact with members of the musical avant-garde like John Cage and Iannis Xenakis. Johnston started with traditional composition before working with Harry Partch on making instruments and using them in live performances and in the studio. Through Partch’s intervention, Johnston studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland (near San Francisco). Johnston met John Cage in 1952. Invited by Cage to come to New York to study with him for the summer, Johnston stayed several weeks and, with Earle Brown, helped produce Cage’s piece for magnetic tapes, Williams Mix. Cage encouraged him to pursue his desire to use traditional instead of electronic instruments, which were not yet very reliable.

For 10 years he worked on incorporating microtones into traditional instruments and his composition language. There were several phases to this work, but in 1960 Johnston established his microtonal notation based on rational intervals of just intonation, which musicologist Kyle E. Gann describes as a "lifelong allegiance" to "microtonality."

Ben Johnston has also worked with Burill Philips and Robert Palmer.

Productions with Ben Johnston

Production Function
Calamity / Billy - (Season 2018-2019)Composition
Calamity / Billy - (Season 2017-2018)Composition