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Richard Johnston: Biography

Richard Johnston
1917 - 1997
Region: Prairie

Richard Johnston

RICHARD JOHNSTON was born in Chicago. His earliest musical influence was Ruth Crazier-Curtis, a teacher at a junior high school but also, and more importantly, a composer that was to introduce the young Johnston to other fellow composers and to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The next step in Johnston's education came in the form of a scholarship, through Sven Lekberg, to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Another teacher and one of his greatest influences, Nadia Boulanger, came to lecture in Chicago with the result that, for two summers, Johnston studied intensively with Mlle. Boulanger. She directed his attention to the great composers of Poland. His love for folk-life studies led to a warm association with Zoltán Kodály, who also coloured his life in many ways.

Johnston has pursued a life of teaching, principally in Canada where he has become a citizen and this, combined with his early experiences in the United States, has afforded him much inspiration and sustenance, as did his marriage to Yvonne Guiget. In describing himself and his music Johnston says:

"As a composer I am an incurable romantic. As a human being I am an incurable romantic. My life as a composer has always taken a back seat to other talents and practical needs, but has always been there as a unifying thread in everything I have undertaken. I have a passionate loyalty to the creative side of life and believe it generates more important details in our personal and public lives than any other single talent. If we are not all Bachs or Schuberts we can at least learn through our own serious efforts the pleasures of creativity and the appreciation of the efforts of the masters. While I have an inordinate respect for technique, I insist that technique must always remain the servant of the idea. And for me there is little importance in music that is not related to line and to the exploration of line. A musical fart, a squawk, a shout: these things are nothing but momentary releases. A line requires planning and thinking and offers opportunity for more thinking and meaningful communication and can possibly be the springboard for a work of art. The other principal element in my music is form -- and while there are elements of classical forms in most of what I write, I rarely substitute formula for organic form. Form for me is a matter of controlled growth of ideas".


PROCAN, Canadian League of Composers


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