John Eaton

Biography

Born: March 30, 1935; Bryn Mawr, PA  
Eaton began his performing career as a jazz pianist and soon became one of the best known early exponents of live electronic performance.

His piano teachers included Steuermann, Erich Kahn, and Frank Sheridan. From 1953 to 1959, Eaton earned his M.F.A. degree at Princeton University, where he studied composition with Babbitt, Cone, and Roger Sessions. During this time he composed his chamber opera in three acts entitled Ma Barker (1957)
Read more to a libretto by A. Gold, a Song Cycle (1957) for soprano and orchestra (piano) to words of John Donne's Holy Sonnets, as well as several instrumentals, the Piano Variations (1958), a String Quartet (1959), and an overture Tertullian (1959). The next year Eaton created his Adagio and Allegro (1960) for flute, oboe, and strings.

Around 1964, Eaton became an avid exponent of and closely identified with the new electronic synthesizer called the Syn-ket, invented by Paolo Ketoff. The instrument's keyboards are sensitive to finger pressure and to sliding movement. Eaton first compositions for this instrument include his Songs for R.P.B. for soprano, piano duet, and Syn-ket (1965); his well-known Concert Piece for Syn-ket and Symphony Orchestra (1966) premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller, at Tanglewood; his Concert Piece for Solo Syn-ket No. 2 (1966); Thoughts on Rilke (1967) for two Syn-kets, Syn-mill, and reverberation plate; and Soliloquy (1967) for Syn-ket.

In the 1960s, Eaton also became fascinated with microtonal possibilities using acoustic instruments and produced his Microtonal Fantasy (1965) for two pianos which (like Charles Ives' famous Quarter-Tone piano duets) are tuned a quarter-tone apart, and his marvelous Vibrations (1966) for flute, two clarinets tuned a quarter-tone apart, and two oboes likewise tuned a quarter-tone apart.

With the further development of the Moog synthesizer, Eaton also incorporated it in two works: the Duet (1968) for Syn-ket and Moog synthesizer, and Blind Man's Cry (1969) for Syn-ket, Moog synthesizer, Syn-mill, and two tape recorders (for delay, etc., a live performance practice employed extensively by composer Terry Riley).

Eaton's acoustic works continued with the premiere of his second opera Heracles (1964), with a libretto by M. Fried, in 1972, at the opening of the Musical Arts Center at Indiana University. Following the composition of his beautiful Sonority Movement (1971) for nine harps, he created the vocal works Ajax (1972) for baritone and chamber orchestra, and The Three Graces (1972) for three sopranos, actor, and electronic ensemble.

Eaton was composer-in-residence at Indiana University in 1970 and was later appointed associate professor there. In 1970, his one-act opera Myshkin with libretto by Patrick Creagh was presented, and in 1973, his comic opera The Lion and Androcles.

His fifth opera Danton and Robespierre, with libretto by Patrick Creagh, was finished in 1978.

Among his several awards, he has received the American Prix de Rome in 1959, 1960 and 1961 and several Guggenheim Fellowships. Read less


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