Shaggy-Dog Minimalism in Operas by Tom Johnson

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Back in 1978 American composer and music critic Tom Johnson created five ‘shaggy-dog operas’: Drawers, Dryer, Door, Window and Box. “I had always loved the Americans tradition known as ‘shaggy dog stories,’ those repetitive stories that take a very long time to tell until they finally end with some dumb punch line, usually a simple word play or an ironic remark, so my next operatic attempt, in 1978, went in that direction. The result was five chamber operas, about 15 minutes each, which I staged myself in a small loft space in Lower Manhattan.” (from The Four Note Opera, 32 Years Later by Tom Johnson). In Drawers, a solo soprano searches for her thimble; in Dryer, a fisherman catches fish and hangs them on the clothes line to dry; in Door, two women sing “yawn” a lot, and wonder whether they should answer the door; and in Window, two men strive to clean a dirty window. (Box was later abandoned and destroyed). In his article “Minimalism in Music: In Search of a Definition” Johnson among other things writes about how back in 1972 he didn’t fully realized that his Four Note Opera written that very same year “was also a form of minimal music”. I will discuss status and function of minimalism in early Johnson’s operas and through that prism I will illuminate the relationship between opera and minimalism in larger context.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventMinimalism: Location, Aspect, Moment - University of Southampton/ Winchester School of Art, Southampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Oct 201614 Oct 2016


ConferenceMinimalism: Location, Aspect, Moment
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
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