Johanna Beyer: Music for Woodwinds

Now available from
New World Records

World-premiere recording:

chamber music for woodwinds and piano

Arizona Wind Quintet

with Daniel Linder, piano

Through her novel approaches to texture and melody, German-American composer Johanna Magdalena Beyer (1888–1944) became one of the most distinctive modernist voices of the mid-20th century. Beyer was the first woman known to have composed for electric instruments (Music of the Spheres, 1938). Her compositions anticipate elements of minimalism, a movement that would manifest two decades after her passing. Beyer was long omitted from the written history of ultramodernism, but her activities as a composer and pianist in 1930s New York City placed her within the orbits of many important artists. Her mentors, friends, and collaborators included Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Otto and Ethel Luening, Marion Bauer, Dane Rudhyar, Percy Grainger, and choreographer Doris Humphrey. At last, in the 21st century, Beyer’s name is now invoked alongside these others, as the significance of her music is becoming more widely recognized.

Although her works for percussion ensemble, piano, and strings have garnered the most attention, Beyer composed a substantial amount of music for woodwinds. Thirteen solo and chamber works, all written between 1932 and 1943, represent an exceptional contribution to the wind repertoire. Only five pieces involving clarinet and flute have previously been recorded. This album brings to light the rest of Beyer’s known chamber music for winds, allowing for a more complete assessment of her achievements.

Beyer wrote to Cowell in 1940, “I am not a set piece of so many molecules. I am an ever changing something.” Nothing truer could be said of Beyer’s woodwind music, which reveals a composer in constant search of new approaches and instrumental colors. In little more than a decade of intense creativity, she produced inventive pieces in an ever-unfolding ultramodernist style. These works, now accessible for performance and study, confirm Johanna Beyer’s importance in the canon of 20th-century wind chamber music.

Beyer cover.jpg

Frog Peak Music editions

Forthcoming scores/parts:

Six Movements for Oboe and Piano

Suite for Clarinet and Bassoon

Trio for Woodwinds

Quintet for Woodwinds

Movement for Woodwinds