Ben Johnston - String Quartets 6, 7 & 8; Quietness | New World Records NW80730

Ben Johnston - String Quartets 6, 7 & 8; Quietness


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Label: New World Records

Cat No: NW80730

Format: CD

Number of Discs: 1

Genre: Chamber

Release Date: 3rd June 2016



Kepler Quartet
Ben Johnston (voice)


Johnston, Ben

String Quartet no.6
String Quartet no.7
String Quartet no.8


Kepler Quartet
Ben Johnston (voice)


A fourteen-year odyssey comes to a close with the eagerly anticipated world premiere recordings of the final volume of Ben Johnston’s string quartets.

The ten string quartets of Ben Johnston, written between 1951 and 1995, constitute no less than an attempt to revolutionize the medium. Only the first limits itself to conventional tuning. The others, climaxing in the astonishing Seventh Quartet of 1984, add in further microtones from the harmonic series to the point that the music seems to float in a free pitch space, unmoored from the grid of the common twelve-pitch scale.

In a way, this is a return to an older conception of string quartet practice, since players used to (and often still do) intuitively adjust their tuning for maximum sonority while listening to each other’s intonation.

The completion of the cycle, supervised throughout by the composer himself, is a historic achievement that will undoubtedly stand as the definitive document of these works, among the landmark quartet cycles of 20th-century music.

The Seventh and Eighth Quartets are receiving their world-premiere recordings. The former has a reputation as the most difficult quartet ever written and the Kepler Quartet has met the challenge with enviable aplomb, as they have throughout the cycle, affording listeners a chance to finally hear these difficult but highly rewarding works. Johnston’s brief, poignant Rumi setting, Quietness, with the composer himself as vocalist, rounds out the recording, a fitting denouement to — in the words of composer/author Kyle Gann — “possibly the most ambitious string quartet project in history”.


Ben Johnson’s string quartets, sonically weird yet beguilingly beautiful, are now recognised as major works in the genre, largely due to the Kepler Quartet’s pioneering recordings.  Daniel Jaffé
BBC Music Magazine August 2016

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