Microtonal Composers

By eusebius eusebius
updated over 2 years ago

Included here are musicians (sorted by birth date) represented in my collections, who left microtonal pieces or works composed in the just intonation system, or that somewhere in their output made use of microtonals.

Microtonal music: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microtonal
Just intonation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_intonation

  1. Athanasius Kircher

    (1601 or 1602)
    His book Musurgia Universalis (1650) is an eclectic treatise on music, containing a section on automatic music instruments, including instructions on how to program a cylindrus dentatus (toothed cylinder). Kircher also referred to this medium as a cylindrus phonotacticus, meaning a cylinder for the arrangement of sounds.

    Kircher thought best to plot out a piece of music in advance on a sheet of paper which represented the cylinder's curved surface "projected into a plane" for ease of viewing.
    In one of the preparations printed on his book we find the octave divided not into the usual twelve units, but into twenty-eight, so that it could accomodate a piece of experimental microtonal music: Diatonic-chromatic-enharmonic monody to be presented on phonotactic cylinder.

  2. Charles Ives

    (20 Oct. 1874)

    Three Quarter-Tone Pieces For Two Pianos (1903-23).

  3. Julian Carrillo

    (28 Jan. 1875)

    Known for his theory on microtonal music which he dubbed The Thirteenth Sound (Sonido 13).

  4. John Foulds

    (2 Nov. 1880)

    Foulds did not use microtonals as a basis of any of his compositions, just made use of them here and there in his works for colour/dramatic purposes.

  5. Béla Bartók

    (25 Mar. 1881)

    Listed here for the use, with ornamental purposes only, of quarter-tones on the stage work The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19, Sz 73 (1918-19/1923-24), and, in an essencial manner, on the Sonata for Solo Violin, Sz 117 (1944).

  6. George Enescu

    (19 Aug. 1881)

    He used quarter-tones on the Third Violin Sonata, op. 25 (1926).

  7. Karol Szymanowski

    (3 Oct. 1882)

    Dryades et Pan, from Mythes op. 30 (1915), includes the use of quarter-tones.

  8. Ivan Wyschnegradsky

    (14 May 1893)

  9. Alois Hába

    (21 Jun. 1893)

  10. Harry Partch

    (24 Jun. 1901)

  11. Giacinto Scelsi

    (8 Oct. 1905)

    Canti del Capricorno (1962-1972)

  12. Vagn Holmboe

    (20 Dec. 1909)

    In the first movement of String Quartet No. 8, Op. 87 (1965), Holmboe varies the energy level of the music by means of constant shifts of note values - half notes, quarter notes, eighth-note triplets, and sixteenth notes - within the same felt pulse.

  13. Maurice Ohana

    (12 jun. 1913)

    In the composition Concerto: Tres Gráficos para Guitarra y Orchesta (1950-57), the guitar is used with its interval caracteristics, including microtones, its harmonic, rhythmic and tonal atributes.

  14. Witold Lutoslawski

    (25 Jan. 1913)

    From a letter on his Cello Concerto (1970) to Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the première of the work on 14th October: "The passages in quarter-tones in the solo part are conceived and written in such a way that the notes may be heard separately and not dissolved into glissandi".

  15. Andrzej Panufnik

    (24 Sep. 1914)

    On Lullaby (1947), for twenty-nine strings and two harps (or one harp), we have, as stated by composer, ultra-delicate harmonic textures created by constantly interweaving strings, each player with his own independent part, using quarter tones.

  16. Alberto Ginastera

    (11 Apr. 1916)

    Ginastera's Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 36 (1968), is a neo-expressionistic work written using the twelve-tone technique and, at times, quarter tones (on hearing this piece, their use appears as very, very slight).

  17. Lou Harrison

    (14 May 1917)

  18. György Ligeti

    (28 May 1923)

  19. Ben Johnston

    (15 Mar. 1926)

  20. Joe Maneri

    (9 Feb. 1927)

    Composer and reeds player of microtonal jazz.

  21. Karl Korte

    (25 Aug. 1928)

    In Remembrances (1971), for flute & synthesized processed sound, the flute part calls for quarter-tones and also makes use of special alternate fingerings to produce unusual timbral effects. The piece was composed for and premiered by Samuel Baron.

  22. James Tenney

    (10 Aug. 1934)

  23. Terry Riley

    (24 Jun. 1935)

  24. La Monte Young

    (14 Oct. 1935)

  25. Jonathan Harvey

    (3 May 1939)

    In the opera Wagner Dream (2002-06) the instrumentalists are to play in quarter tones and with special play modes, such as circular bowing, as well as glissandos (these playing a structural role in the piece).