Mark Swed has said, "“More than 20 years ago, the music critic John Rockwell described Ben Johnston in the New York Times as “one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer.” What has changed is that Johnston is now, I’d suggest, our BEST non-famous composer.”
The acclaimed Lyris String Quartet perform Ben Johnston's microtonal masterpiece at MicroFest 2015 at Boston Court in Pasadena. "In the early 1970s, as Johnston’s music began to explore harmonies derived from the higher partials of the harmonic series (the 7th, and later the 11th and 13th), a new and apparently contradictory impulse began to manifest itself: a desire to have the music speak clearly and to be intelligible to a wide audience, particularly to listeners who had no particular investment in avant-garde music.
The most compelling instance of this is String Quartet No. 4, composed in 1973, a set of variations on the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The quartet traverses three different tunings in its eleven-minute span, all of them forms of just intonation: Pythagorean tuning (based entirely on chains of pure fifths), triadic just intonation (based on pure fifths and pure major thirds), and an experimental form of extended just intonation using, in addition to pure fifths and thirds, intervals derived from the seventh partial of the overtone series (a narrow minor 7th quite different from its equal-tempered equivalent). From this pitch world, partly familiar and partly unfamiliar, and in a rhythmic language of great complexity employing proportional rhythms and metric modulations, the piece creates an impression of unified beauty. String Quartet No. 4 has become Johnston’s best-known composition." — Bob Gilmore, award-winning editor of a collection of Johnston's essays entitled "Maximum Clarity" (University of Illinois Press).