Benjamin Boretz

Benjamin Boretz is a twentieth- and twenty-first-century American composer and music theorist. Studied composition at Brandeis University with Arthur Berger, at the Aspen Music 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 realtime improvisational musicmaking, 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.

His 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. Recent publications include BEING ABOUT MUSIC, a 2-volume anthology of textworks written between 1960 and 2003 by Randall and Boretz; a CD of Boretz's piano music played by Michael Fowler (Open Space CD 18); the 2-CD album OPEN SPACES 2005: MUSIC AROUND BENJAMIN BORETZ (Open Space CD 20, issued in collaboration with Perspectives of New Music); Open Space DVD1, containing the text-music-video pieces Black /Noise III and music / consciousness / gender; and Open Space DVD2, containing video-text-music collaborations by Boretz, Dorota Czerner, and Russell Richardson (GROUP VARIATIONS; POPPIES). POSTLUDE, WITH JIM RANDALL IN MIND, for string quartet (2005) appears in the 2-CD album JKR 3 (Open Space CD 21). String Quartet (1957-1958-2005), performed by the DAFO Quartet, produced by Dorota Czerner and Malgorzata Polanska is issued on Open Space CD 22.

Boretz has taught music departments in a number of American schools, including Brandeis, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Princeton, NYU, Columbia University, University of Michigan, Bard College, Evergreen College, and University of Southampton (UK, as Visiting Fulbright Professor).

Boretz is a co-founder, with Arthur Berger, of the composers' music journal Perspectives of New Music and, in 1999, founded The Open Space Magazine, which he edits with Mary Lee Roberts, Tildy Bayar, and Dorota Czerner. He was music critic for The Nation from 1962-70.

Principal Compositions

  • Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra (1954)
  • Nocturne for String Orchestra (1955)
  • Partita for Piano (1955)
  • Divertimento for chamber ensemble (1955-56)
  • Violin Concerto (1956)
  • Overture to “Jezebel” (1956)
  • String Quartet (1957-58)
  • 2musics 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)
  • 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)
  • Is Every Entity a Being? for the DAFO string quartet (2007-8))
  • Backlight for the Cygnus Ensemble (2007-8)

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 Maghazine; Journal of Music Theory; Contemporary Music Newsletter; Proceedings of the American Society of University Compoers; Proceedings of the International Musicological Society; News of Music; The Open Space Magazine; in books: Perspectives on Contemporary Music Theory (W. W. Norton); Perspectives on Musical Aesthetics (W. W. Norton).

External links

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