John Eaton (composer)
|Oral History, John Eaton talks about working with a modular synthesizer. Interview date January 23, 2010, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library|
Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Eaton attended Princeton University, where he graduated in 1957 (Morgan 2001). He later lived in Rome (1957–68), returning to Princeton to earn a Ph.D. in 1970 (Anon. n.d.(c)). He subsequently held faculty appointments at Indiana University (1970–92) and the University of Chicago (1989–99) (Morgan 2001; Anon. n.d.(b)).
Eaton was a prominent composer of microtonal music, and worked with Paul Ketoff and Robert Moog during the 1960s in developing several types of synthesizer (Chadabe 1967; Frankenstein 1968). Notably, he was involved in the development, use, and ultimately unsuccessful commercialization of the syn-ket (Crab 2015). He devised a compositional genre called pocket opera, operas scored for a small cast of vocalists and a chamber group, and composed such pocket opera works as Peer Gynt, Let's Get This Show on the Road, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Tommasini 2010; Grimes 2015).
His operas include The Cry of Clytaemnestra (1980), a re-telling of some of the events surrounding the Trojan War from the perspective of Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra, which has been hailed as the first feminist opera. It was premièred in Bloomington, at the Indiana University Opera Theater, on 1 March 1980, and received a number of subsequent productions, most notably in New York and California (Morgan 1992a). Eaton's opera, The Tempest, with a libretto by Andrew Porter after William Shakespeare, was premièred at the Santa Fe Opera on 27 July 1985 (Rockwell 1985; Morgan 1985a), and subsequently performed in the autumn of 1986 at the Indiana University School of Music (Anon. 2010).
During his tenure at the University of Chicago, Eaton concentrated on works for smaller ensembles, including chamber operas that involved dramatic participation of the instrumentalists alongside the singers (Oestreich 2000). He founded and directed The Pocket Opera Players, a professional troupe dedicated to the performance of his works in this genre, and occasionally those of fellow composers interested in the form. He continued to lead the Pocket Opera Players in New York City, after his retirement from Chicago in 2001. He was a recipient of the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship (Morgan 2001), and a MacArthur Fellowship (Anon. 2008).
Eaton died on December 2, 2015, following a brain hemorrhage. His wife Nelda Nelson-Eaton and two children, Estela and Julian, survive him (Grimes 2015).
- Ma Barker (written 1957–58)
- Herakles (written 1964; 10 October 1968, Turin)
- Myshkin (23 April 1973 Bloomington, Ind.)
- The Lion and Androcles (written 1973; 1 May 1974 Indianapolis)
- Danton and Robespierre (written 1978; 21 April 1978 Bloomington) (Morgan 1992b)
- The Cry of Clytemnestra (written 1979–80; 1 March 1980 Bloomington)
- The Tempest (written 1983–85; 27 July 1985 Santa Fe) (Morgan 1992c)
- The Reverend Jim Jones (written 1989)
- Let's Get This Show on the Road (written 1993)
- Golk (written 1995)
- Antigone (written 1999) (Midgette 2004)
- . . . inasmuch (written 2002) (Midgette 2002)
- King Lear (written 2003–2004)
- Anon. n.d.(a) "John Eaton". G. Schirmer website (Accessed 16 July 2010).
- Anon. n.d.(b). "JOHN EATON (IU faculty: 1970–1992)." Accessed Jun 9, 2013.
- Anon. n.d.(c). "John Eaton." Accessed June 9, 2013. http://music.uchicago.edu/page/john-eaton
- Anon. 2008. "John Eaton". The University of Chicago Department of Music website (Accessed July 16, 2010).
- Anon. 2010. "Eaton". American Composers Alliance website (Accessed July 16, 2010)
- Chadabe, Joel. 1967. "Concert Piece for Synket and Symphony Orchestra". Electronic Music Review, no.4 (1967): 46.
- Crab, Simon. 2015. "The 'Syn-ket' (or 'Synthesizer-Ketoff'): Paolo Ketoff & John Eaton, Italy, 1963". 120 Years of Electronic Music website (accessed 13 January 2016).
- Frankenstein, Alfred. 1968. "Introducing John Eaton and his Pieces for the Syn-ket". Hi Fidelity, 18, no. 7:82.
- Grimes, William. 2015. "John Eaton, Composer and Electronic Innovator, Dies at 80". New York Times (December 13): A42.
- Midgette, Anne. 2002. "Quirks and Microtones For Antics of Peer Gynt". New York Times (May 28) (accessed January 2, 2016).
- Midgette, Anne. 2004. "High Notes: Pinocchio Goes to the Opera". New York Times (May 16) (accessed January 2, 2016).
- Morgan, Robert P. 1985a. "John Eaton and The Tempest". Musical Times 126 (July): 397–400.
- Morgan, Robert P. 1985b. "Alchemist". Opera News 1, no. 1:28–31.
- Morgan, Robert P. 1992a. "Cry of Clytemnestra, The". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie; managing editor, Christina Bashford. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-935859-92-6.
- Morgan, Robert P. 1992b. "Danton and Robespierre". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie; managing editor, Christina Bashford. London: Macmillan Press.
- Morgan, Robert P. 1992c. "Tempest, The (ii)". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie; managing editor, Christina Bashford. London: Macmillan Press.
- Morgan, Robert P. 2001. "Eaton, John C(harles)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Oestreich, James R. 2000. "Off With Pomp and Circumstance". New York Times (May 15) (accessed January 2, 2016).
- Rockwell, John. 1985. "Opera: World Premiere of Eaton's 'Tempest'". New York Times (July 30) (accessed December 19, 2015).
- Tommasini, Anthony. 2010. "Fitzgerald 'Case', Just as Curious When It's Sung". New York Times (June 16) (accessed December 19, 2015).
- Living Composers Project entry for John Eaton
- Opera Glass
- Extensive interview with John Eaton
- Music Sales page on John Eaton
- Indiana University, Jacobs School of Music page on John Eaton
- University of Chicago page on John Eaton
- American Composers Alliance page on John Eaton