Ben Johnston, Who Made Microtonal Music Melodic, Dies at 93

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Composer Bob Johnson passed away near Madison, Wis, last Sunday at age 96.

Allan Kozinn of the The New York Times writes about his musical importance.

“Mr. Johnston was an unusual avant-gardist: His music was so melodically engaging, rhythmically vital and structurally transparent that listeners who were unaware of his tuning experiments and their complex theoretical underpinnings heard his works as essentially neo-Romantic.

In addition to using microtonality — a system in which the octave is often divided into dozens of pitches rather than the traditional 12 — Mr. Johnston sometimes used serial techniques, in which pitches were presented in a predetermined sequence. He invented his own notation systems to account for his tunings, which could change from piece to piece” Mr. Johnston’s compositions had complex theoretical underpinnings but were also, a former student said, “grounded in the real world.”

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