The intrepid Kepler Quartet is trying to finish their recording of the complete string quartets of Ben Johnston. Ben’s health is failing rapidly, it seems, and the project has taken on a race-against-time quality. This is possibly the most ambitious string quartet project in history. They’ve got the 6th, 7th, and 8th quartets to go, and the 7th has a reputation as the most difficult quartet ever written: the third movement, based on a 183-pitch row in the viola with no repetitions, employs more than 1200 pitches to the octave:
I haven’t heard the Eighth Quartet either; the Sixth, a lovely, 12-tone, just-intonation work with more than sixty pitches in its row matrix, was issued on vinyl back in the early 1980s. The expense is a big issue, and so the Kepler has started a kickstarter page to help out. They need to raise $15,000 by New Year’s Eve, and are just over a third of the way there at this writing. Perhaps you can give the underground history of music a Christmas present and help bring this phenomenal effort to fruition.
Allan J. Cronin says
After Bartok there was Carter and Johnston in terms of landmarks of writing for the string quartet genre. I’m guessing maybe Rihm and Ferneyhough might be contenders for another generation. About time we get to hear Johnston’s complete set of essays here.
Paul Rapoport says
I sat in on a rehearsal of the second movement of 8 and first movement of 7. This is certainly as important (and difficult) as you indicate, The number of pitches per octave may not matter as much as (for example) the number in a short time in a quick tempo, raising performance questions about infrachromatic passages especially.
All of quartets 6 and 8 are recorded, plus at least the first movement of 7, with editing to do on some of that. Thanks for putting up the notice.
KG replies: Great to hear, Paul. Your Sorabji book has been a godsend for me. He’s the only European I’m tempted to do independent research on.
Paul Rapoport says
I await such research with much interest.
Juhani Nuorvala says
Great news: they reached their goal!
Eric Segnitz says
Thank you Kyle!
Our great honor to be shown such support from many different corners.
Looking forward to sharing these great works with everyone,
Dave MacDonald says
AAAAHHH! I’m so mad I’m only reading about this today! Missed it by a day! Grrrr..