Benjamin Boretz

Benjamin Aaron Boretz[1] (born 3 October 1934) is an American composer and music theorist.

Benjamin Boretz
Benjamin Boretz at the house of J.K. Randall, Princeton, N.J., circa 1981.

Life and work

Boretz was born in Brooklyn, New York and graduated with a degree in music from Brooklyn College (1954), studied composition with Tadeusz Kassern, and later studied composition at Brandeis University with Arthur Berger and Irving Fine, at the Aspen Music Festival and School with Darius Milhaud, at UCLA with Lukas Foss, and at Princeton with Milton Babbitt and Roger Sessions. He was one of the early composers to work with computer-synthesized sound (Group Variations II, 1970–72). In the late 1970s and 1980s he converged his compositional and pedagogical practices in a project of real-time improvisational music-making, culminating in the formation (at Bard College) of the music-learning program called Music Program Zero, which flourished until 1995. He has written extensively on musical issues, as critic, theorist, and musical philosopher, from the perspective of a practicing composer. His earliest (1970) large-scale music-intellectual essay was the book-length "Meta-Variations, Studies in the Foundations of Musical Thought", which addresses the epistemological questions involved in the cognition and composition of music, and propounds a radically relativistic/individualistic/ontological reconstruction of the music-creative process. Later (1978), his text composition "Language, as a Music, Six marginal Pretexts for Composition" engaged questions of the origin and nature of language and meaning as they might be conceived from the perspective of music.

Boretz has taught music departments in a number of American schools, including Brandeis, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, University of Chicago, NYU, Columbia University, University of Michigan, Bard College, UC Santa Barbara, Evergreen College, and University of Southampton (UK, as Visiting Fulbright Professor). See: List of music students by teacher: A to B#Benjamin Boretz.

Boretz is a co-founder, with Arthur Berger, of the composers' music journal Perspectives of New Music[2] and in 1999 founded Open Space, which he edits with Mary Lee Roberts, Tildy Bayar, Dorota Czerner, Dean Rosenthal, Arthur Margolin, and Jon Forshee. He was music critic for The Nation [3] from 1962 to 1970.


Boretz's work as composer and writer is available on CDs, DVDs, and printbooks issued by Open Space Publications, a cooperative formed by Boretz with Elaine Barkin and J. K. Randall.

Principal Compositions

  • Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra (1954)

Two Holy Sonnets of John Donne (1954)

  • Nocturne for String Orchestra (1955)
  • Partita for Piano (1955)

Leda and the Swan (Rilke) for alto voice, 2 cellos, flute (1955)

  • Divertimento for chamber ensemble (1955–56)
  • Violin Concerto (1956)
  • Overture to “Jezebel” (1956)
  • String Quartet (1957–58)
  • 2 musics for lukas foss (piano 4 hands) (1957)
  • Donne Songs for soprano and piano (1959)
  • Group Variations I for chamber orchestra (1964–67)
  • Group Variations II for computer (version 1, 1972; 2, 1994; 2.1, 2005)
  • Liebeslied, for a pianist alone (1974)
  • (“ chart shines high where the blue milk’s upset...”) for solo piano (1976–77)
  • Language, as a music / six marginal pretexts for composition for speaker, piano, prerecorded tape (1978)
  • Passage, for Roger Sessions at 80 for piano (1979)
  • Converge for ensemble (soundscore) (1980)
  • Talk: If I am a musical thinker (paperpiece) (1982)
  • Elie: The Dance (four-track tape) (1986)
  • forM (a music) (four-track tape) (1986)
  • to open I (four-track tape) (1986)
  • please think (ensemble collage) (1986)
  • to open II (piano, ensemble, tape) (1987)
  • Invention (piano four hands) (1988)
  • 30 Inter/Play realtime sound sessions (1981–88)
  • ONE, eight pianosolo soundsessions (1985)

The River Between (2 keyboard sound session with Richard Teitelbaum) (1987) Sugar, Free (with Wadada Leo Smith) (1988)

  • Lament for Sarah (piano soundscore) (1989)
  • Scores for Composers (1988–1992)
  • Dialogue for JKR (piano soundscore) (1990)
  • Kivapiece, for and about John Silber (textscore) (1991)
  • The Purposes and Politics of Engaging Strangers (for 2 performers) (1991)
  • gendermusic for computer (1994)
  • music/consciousness/gender (live and recorded speakers, prerecorded music, video images) (1994)
  • echoic/anechoic (soundscore for piano) (1997)
  • Black /Noise I (for computer) (1998)
  • Black /Noise III (video images, computer) (1998)
  • Music, as a Music (performance piece for speaker and video) (1998(
  • UN(-) for chamber orchestra (1999)
  • I/O for two speakers (2001)
  • O for piano (2001)
  • O for electric guitar (arranged by Mary Lee Roberts) (2002)
  • Ainu Dreams (piano soundscore) (2002)
  • Postlude (Movement III of String Quartet) (2004-5)
  • Downtime for piano and electronic percussion (2005)
  • Backlight for the Cygnus Ensemble (2007-8)
  • The Memory of All That. A Holy Sonnet of John Donne for Milton Babbitt (1916–2011) (2011)
  • Qixingshan for String Quartet (2007–2008; 2010–2011)
  • Caves (with dorota czerner) (2009)
  • St. Andrews' Night (with dorota czerner) (2011)
  • fireflies (with dorota czerner) (2012)
  • With respect to George (a postcard for George Quasha at 70) for vibraphone solo (2012)
  • ("...The sun poured molten glass on the fields...") for piano (for Robert Morris at 70) (2014)
  • Fantasy on an improvisation by Jim Randall (in memoriam jkr) for the Cygnus Ensemble (2014)
  • Looking (electronic) for images by Linda Cassidy (2016–17)
  • One on One for solo clarinet (2017)
  • A Question, A Rose for violin alone (2018)

Principal writings (published)


  • Language, as a music. Six marginal pretexts for composition. for speaker, prerecorded tape, and piano (1978). Lingua Press, 1980
  • Talk: If I am a musical thinker. (1980) Station Hill Press, 1984
  • Music Columns from The Nation, 1962–70; selected and edited, and with an introduction by, Elaine Barkin. Open Space Publications, 1988
  • Meta-Variations. Studies in the Foundations of Musical Thought. (1970) Open Space Publications, 1994
  • Being About Music. Textworks 1960-2003 (with J. K. Randall). Volume 1: 1960-1978; Volume II: 1978-2003. Open Space Publications, 2003

Articles published: in journals: The Open Space Magazine; Musical America; Musical Quarterly; Harper's; The Nation; Perspectives of New Music; Journal of Philosophy; Cimaise; the London Magazine; Journal of Music Theory; Contemporary Music Newsletter; Proceedings of the American Society of University Composers; Proceedings of the International Musicological Society; News of Music; in books: Perspectives on Contemporary Music Theory (W. W. Norton); Perspectives on Musical Aesthetics (W. W. Norton).


  1. ^ Randel, Don Michael (1996). The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Belknap Press. p. 94.
  2. ^ Schuman, Charles. "Fine arts masters degree now available". Evening News (Newburgh, N.Y.), March 1, 1982, p. 9A. Retrieved on July 17, 2013.
  3. ^ Tuscaloosa News. "Composers' Forum Opens Friday". April 24, 1966, p. 34. Retrieved on July 17, 2013.

External links

Open Space:

Arthur Berger (composer)

Arthur Victor Berger (May 15, 1912 – October 7, 2003) was an American composer and music critic who has been described as a New Mannerist.

Bowed string instrument extended technique

String instruments are capable of producing a variety of extended technique sounds. These alternative playing techniques have been used extensively since the 20th century. Particularly famous examples of string instrument extended technique can be found in the music of Krzysztof Penderecki (particularly his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima), Witold Lutosławski, George Crumb, and Helmut Lachenmann.


In music, counterpoint is the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour. It has been most commonly identified in the European classical tradition, strongly developing during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period, especially in the Baroque. The term originates from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning "point against point".

Edward T. Cone

Edward Toner Cone (May 4, 1917 – October 23, 2004) was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, and philanthropist.

Cone was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. He studied composition under Roger Sessions at Princeton University, receiving his bachelor's in 1939 (Latin salutatorian and the first Princeton student to submit a musical composition as his senior thesis). Cone and Milton Babbitt were the first to earn graduate degrees in musical composition from Princeton (MFA, 1942). He studied piano with Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Edward Steuermann. During the Second World War Cone served first in the army (as a pianist) and later in the Office of Strategic Services. Beginning in 1946 he taught at Princeton. He was the co-editor of the journal Perspectives of New Music between 1965 and 1969.

Cone, known for his contributions to music criticism and analysis, also composed a significant body of music. His scholarly work addressed musical form and aesthetics, particularly questions of rhythm and musical phrasing. He died in Princeton, New Jersey, aged 87.

Cone's students include Michael Dellaira, Hobart Earle, Alan Fletcher, Robert Greenberg, John Heiss, David Lewin, Gilbert Levine, Mathilde McKinney, Robert P. Morgan, Mario Pelusi, Malcolm Peyton, Harold Powers, Victor Rosenbaum, John Solum, Richard Aaker Trythall, Beth Wiemann, and Edgar Warren Williams. See: List of music students by teacher: C to F#Edward T. Cone.

Elaine Barkin

Elaine Barkin née Radoff (b. 15 December 1932) is an American composer, writer, and educator.

Holiday Overture

The Holiday Overture is a composition for orchestra by Elliott Carter. Carter wrote the work during the summer of 1944, on commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to celebrate the liberation of Paris during World War II. In addition, Carter composed the overture for the Independent Concert Music Publisher's Contest 1945, and won this competition. The overture was to have been premiered in Boston. However, Carter made a copy of some parts of the work. Eventually, the work received its premiere in Frankfurt in 1946, conducted by Hans Blümer. In 1961, Carter revised the overture.

James K. Randall

James K. Randall (June 16, 1929 – May 28, 2014) was an American composer, music theorist, and early adopter of electronic music. At the time of his death he was Professor of Music Emeritus at Princeton University.

John Rahn

John Rahn is a music theorist, composer, bassoonist, and Professor of Music in the University of Washington School of Music, Seattle. A former student of Milton Babbitt and Benjamin Boretz, he was editor of Perspectives of New Music from 1983 until 1993 and since 2001 has been co-editor with Benjamin Boretz and Robert Morris.

October 3

October 3 is the 276th day of the year (277th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 89 days remaining until the end of the year.

Open Space (publications)

Open Space was begun in 1988 in a collaborative effort by Benjamin Boretz, J.K. Randall, and Elaine Barkin. Inspired by the publications of Kenneth Gaburo's Lingua Press whose graphical presentation was far from the typically institutional look of some academic music publications, Open Space began to represent the real-time soundmaking sessions in and around Bard College and Princeton University.

The Open Space Magazine and The Open Space Web Magazine, began in 1999 and Mary Lee Roberts and Tildy Bayar joined the editorial staff. Dorota Czerner became a fellow editor and producer in 2003.

Open Space strives to support the, “…output from a community for people who need to explore or expand the limits of their expressive worlds, to extend or dissolve the boundaries among their expressive-language practices, to experiment with the forms or subjects of thinking or making or performing in the context of creative phenomena. We want to create a hospitable space for texts which, in one way or another, might feel somewhat marginal — or too ‘under construction’ — for other, kindred publications."When editors Dean Rosenthal, Jon Forshee and Arthur Margolin joined in the late 2000s, Open Space strove to create a purely digital version of The Open Space Web Magazine allowing them to stream multimedia, along with notes, scores and various other kinds of contributions.

In September 2011, Open Space was selected to participate in the Free Music Archive.

Perspectives of New Music

Perspectives of New Music is a peer-reviewed academic journal specializing in music theory and analysis. It was established in 1962 by Arthur Berger and Benjamin Boretz (who were its initial editors-in-chief).

Perspectives was first published by the Princeton University Press, initially supported by the Fromm Music Foundation. The first issue was favorably reviewed in the Journal of Music Theory, which observed that Berger and Boretz had produced "a first issue which sustains such a high quality of interest and cogency among its articles that one suspects the long delay preceding the yet-unborn Spring, 1963 issue may reflect a scarcity of material up to their standard". However, as the journal's editorial "perspective" coalesced, Fromm became—in the words of David Gable—disenchanted with the "exclusive viewpoint [that] came to dominate" it. "However intrinsically valuable the kinds of analytic approaches that came to typify it may [have been], Perspectives [became] in essence a highly specialized theory journal for contemporary music. For a decade, Fromm and certain members of the advisory board attempted to broaden the journal's scope, and when the editorial board . . . refused to return to the original conception, Fromm withdrew his funding in 1972. When Fromm discontinued his support, Perspectives of New Music formed an independent corporation, which has continued its publication.

Boretz edited the journal from 1962 through 1983, with co-editors Berger (1962–1964), Edward T. Cone (1968–1972), and Elaine Barkin (1972–1983). John Rahn was editor from 1983 until 1993, and Boretz again in 1994/95. From 1995 until 2000, there was a group of five editors: Joseph Dubiel, Marion Guck, Marianne Kielian-Gilbert, Andrew Mead, and Stephen Peles. The current editors are Boretz, Robert Morris, and Rahn.


Polytonality (also polyharmony (Cole and Schwartz 2012)) is the musical use of more than one key simultaneously. Bitonality is the use of only two different keys at the same time. Polyvalence is the use of more than one harmonic function, from the same key, at the same time (Leeuw 2005, 87).

Some examples of bitonality superimpose fully harmonized sections of music in different keys.


Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of sound perception and audiology – how humans perceive various sounds. More specifically, it is the branch of science studying the psychological and physiological responses associated with sound (including noise, speech and music). It can be further categorized as a branch of psychophysics. Psychoacoustics received its name from a field within psychology—i.e., recognition science—which deals with all kinds of human perceptions. It is an interdisciplinary field of many areas, including psychology, acoustics, electronic engineering, physics, biology, physiology, and computer science.

Simultaneity (music)

In music, a simultaneity is more than one complete musical texture occurring at the same time, rather than in succession. This first appeared in the music of Charles Ives, and is common in the music of Conlon Nancarrow and others.

In music theory, a pitch simultaneity is more than one pitch or pitch class all of which occur at the same time, or simultaneously: "A set of notes sounded together." Simultaneity is a more specific and more general term than chord: many but not all chords or harmonies are simultaneities, though not all but some simultaneities are chords. For example, arpeggios are chords whose tones are not simultaneous. "The practice of harmony typically involves both simultaneity...and linearity."A simultaneity succession is a series of different groups of pitches or pitch classes, each of which is played at the same time as the other pitches of its group. Thus, a simultaneity succession is a succession of simultaneities.

Similarly, simultaneity succession is a more general term than chord progression or harmonic progression: most chord progressions or harmonic progressions are then simultaneity successions, though not all simultaneity successions are harmonic progressions and not all simultaneities are chords.

Symphonies of Wind Instruments

The Symphonies of Wind Instruments (French title: Symphonies d'instruments à vent) is a concert work written by Igor Stravinsky in 1920, for an ensemble of woodwind and brass instruments. The piece is in one movement, lasting about 9 minutes. It is dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, who died in 1918, and was premiered in London on June 10, 1921, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky.

A piano reduction by Arthur Lourié was published in 1926 (White 1979, 292), a full score appearing only after Stravinsky re-orchestrated the work in 1947 (Howe 2006).

Symphony of Psalms

The Symphony of Psalms is a three-movement choral symphony composed by Igor Stravinsky in 1930 during his neoclassical period. The work was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The symphony derives its name from the use of Psalm texts in the choral parts.

The Group for Contemporary Music

The Group for Contemporary Music is an American chamber ensemble dedicated to the performance of contemporary classical music. It was founded in New York City in 1962 by Joel Krosnick, Harvey Sollberger and Charles Wuorinen and gave its first concert on October 22, 1962 in Columbia University's MacMillin Theatre. Krosnik left the ensemble in 1963. It was the first contemporary music ensemble based at a university and run by composers.The Group was based at Columbia University from 1962 until 1971, when it took up residency at the Manhattan School of Music. Initial support was provided by the Alice M. Ditson Fund of Columbia, followed later by support from a broad range of foundations and public sources. The Group's success led the Rockefeller Foundation to form lavishly-funded "spin-off" ensembles at Rutgers University, the University at Buffalo, the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago in the middle 1960s.

Early supporters of the Group included such Columbia faculty as Jack Beeson, Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Edgard Varese and Aaron Copland were also among its champions. The early years of the Group were tied in, as well, with the early development of electronic music in the United States. Early on the Group affiliated itself with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and many premieres of important new works involving instruments and electronics by such composers as Milton Babbitt, Mario Davidovsky and Vladimir Ussachevsky were presented on its concerts.

At the heart of the Group were its performers. Aside from Krosnik, Sollberger and Wuorinen, others who were central to its early and continued success included Sophie Sollberger, flute; Josef Marx, oboe; Arthur Bloom and Jack Kreiselman, clarinets; Donald MacCourt, bassoon; Barry Benjamin, horn; Ronald Anderson, trumpet; the brothers Robert and James Biddlecome, trombones; Raymond DesRoches and Richard Fitz, percussionists; Robert Miller, pianist; Aleck Karis, pianos; Susan Jolles, harp; Jeanne Benjamin, Benjamin Hudson and Linda Quan, violins; Jacob Glick and Lois Martin, violas; Fred Sherry and Peter Rosenfeld, cellos; Bertram Turetzky, Donald Palma and Kenneth Fricker, contrabasses; and Valarie Lamoreaux, soprano. Conducting duties were shared by Sollberger and Wuorinen and later with Gunther Schuller. Over the course of years, younger performers who had "learn the ropes" with the Group formed their own ensembles patterned on it, one outstanding example of this being Speculum Musicae which was formed in 1971.

A broad range of composers was represented by the Group over the course of its first 25 years. A brief (but not exhaustive) list includes Edgard Varèse, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Donald Martino, Peter Westergaard, Benjamin Boretz, Otto Luening, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Mario Davidovsky, Goffredo Petrassi, Stefan Wolpe, Ursula Mamlok, Ralph Shapey, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Harley Gaber, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Ezra Laderman, Raoul Pleskow, Elaine Barkin, Arthur Berger, Yehudi Wyner, Bülent Arel, Joji Yuasa, Toru Takemitsu, Francisco Kropfl, Jeffrey Kresky, David Olan, Goffredo Petrassi, Aaron Copland, Morton Gould, Frederick Fox, Ross Lee Finney, Roger Reynolds, Robert Stewart, Jacob Druckman, Bernard Rands, Robert Hall Lewis, Claudio Spies, John Harbison, Joan Tower, Chester Biscardi, Carlos Salzedo, Lukas Foss, and Richard Edward Wilson.

The Group recorded extensively for a number of labels (CRI, RCA Victor, New World and later Koch and Naxos) and performed in venues such as the University of Chicago, the University of Iowa, Southern Illinois University, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Princeton University, the Eastman School of Music, Washington and Lee University, Stony Brook University, Avery Fisher Hall (for the New York Philharmonic) and Rutgers University.

The ensemble was awarded a citation from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1985.

Variations (Stravinsky)

Variations: Aldous Huxley in memoriam is Igor Stravinsky's last orchestral composition, written in 1963–64.

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