Obituary: Dennis Johnson, composer of long-lost early-minimalist work, 80

Posted on: January 14, 2019

“Dennis Johnson, a composer who in 1959 wrote a trailblazing Minimalist work, a six-hour piano meditation of repeated notes and long pauses that went unheard for 50 years before being rediscovered, died on Dec. 20 in Morgan Hill, California,” writes Allan Kozinn in Wednesday’s (1/9) New York Times. “He was 80…. Until 10 years ago … his music was known only by reputation. References to it were found in the writings of composer La Monte Young, a founder of Minimalism [who said] that ‘November’ influenced his own six-hour magnum opus, ‘The Well-Tuned Piano’ (1964)…. The path to its revival began in 1992, when Mr. Young gave the critic and composer Kyle Gann a cassette tape with a partial performance…. Mr. Gann decided to reconstruct the score…. Mr. Gann performed a tag-team version of the piece with the pianist Sarah Cahill …  in 2009. That performance led to a 2013 recording by R. Andrew Lee… In 1966, Mr. Johnson gave up performing music publicly and began work on his doctorate in math…. Beginning in the mid-1970s, he worked for a decade at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory…. His 1983 theorem, the Johnson homomorphism, is still studied in the field of geometric topology.”

Posted January 14, 2019