Ben Johnston – Suite for Microtonal Piano (1977)

Suite for Microtonal Piano (1978) is a suite for specifically microtonally tuned piano(s) by Ben Johnston written in 1977 (see also just intonation). According to Bob Gilmore the piece, “take[s] extended just intonation well beyond the point reached by Harry Partch.”

“The piano is tuned to a selection of overtones from the fifth octave of the harmonic spectrum of C. All octaves are tuned in the same scale….The lowest C (33 Hz.) can be used to tune the scale by ear. In succession, touch the nodes producing the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 11th, 13th, 17th, [and] 19th partials. Then G, D; D, A; E, B; [and] B-flat, F; are just (beatless) fifths.”

Movements

  1. Alarum
  2. Blues
  3. Etude
  4. Song
  5. Toccata

Alarum is a Shakespeare era stage direction indicating “a grand entrance” and an archaic word for a call to arms, so
“Alarum” is a fanfare.

“Blues” and “Song” are both slow movements. “Blues” uses as blue notes the minor seventh (C-B♭) and mediant (in D dorian exactly halfway between E and G). “Song” is in E phrygian.

“Etude” is a study in serial technique and six-against-five polyrhythms in which Johnston indicates “blur with pedal”. This, “clues us in that the linear intricacies are only part of the story here: the amazing swirl of overtones resulting from an atonal application of this tuning are of equal importance.”

“Toccata” features diatonic outer sections and a spikier chromatic middle section.
The piece has been recorded and released on:

Microtonal Piano by Ben Johnston (1997). Phillip Bush, piano. Koch International Classics 3-7369-2.
















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La Monte Young – X for Henry Flynt (1960)

La Monte Thornton Young (born October 14, 1935) is an American avant-garde composer, musician, and artist. Young is generally recognized as the first minimalist composer. His works have been included among the most important and radical post-World War II avant-garde, experimental, and contemporary music. Young is especially known for his development of drone music. Both his proto-Fluxus and “minimal” compositions question the nature and definition of music and often stress elements of performance art. [source]

John Cale about “X for Henry Flynt” by La Monte Young: “In 1962, I was at Goldsmiths [College]. I was really wrapped up in writing pieces that were instructions. That’s when I found La Monte Young, and Cage, and “4’33″”, which threw another spanner in the works, because it was really about how environment impacts performance. This is a peculiar American thing that was very fractured, because in Europe, the concert was sacrosanct: silence, and you listen. But you don’t listen to Cage as much as you read him. If you read him in Silence, or A Year From Monday, you get a world outlook that’s very interesting. The walls of the concert hall were not the only thing that he was breaking down.

We learned about discipline and working every day from La Monte, about not particularly forcing anything to happen, but allowing things to happen. I think Cage liked how La Monte was writing instructions for performers. That’s the original performance art. And those instructions didn’t just deal with performance or music. “X for Henry Flynt” was a piece where you pick an event and then you repeat it X number of times with the same gap in time between it. “Draw a straight line and follow it,” which was really about Einstein and space. If you draw a straight line and you come back to where you started, then space is finite. So you really didn’t know what’s performance and what’s not.
Later, when La Monte and I were working together down here on Church Street, holding the drum for an hour and a half every day for a year and a half, it’s like, “What is a performance? Where does it start and where does it end?” And his idea was that it didn’t. He said it was a very Chinese idea at the time. Everybody else in Europe think about centuries. But China thinks in terms of eons.”

Performed by Aljaž Zupančič: