John J. Becker


(b. Henderson, Ky., January 22, 1886; d. Wilmette, Ill., January 21, 1961) was an American composer, often grouped with Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Henry Cowell, and Wallingford Riegger as "The American Five" of "ultra-modern" music.

Becker was closely befriended with Ives, who entrusted to him the orchestration of his enormous visionary song, General William Booth Enters into Heaven. He belongs to the ‘American Five’ of early modernism – but his music has remained the least known. He taught at Barat College on Lake Michigan.

from NYPL Archives website:

Becker is known as leader of an ultramodern, arguably dissonant, distinctly American style of music that broke away from European styles of composition. Along with the other four of the “American Five” (Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, and Wallingford Riegger) he shattered preconceived notions of composition, employing difficult techniques of counterpoint and harmony. Becker wrote seven symphonies, as well as concertos, orchestral suites, songs, and choral works (especially religious works). In Musicalia (ca.1931), Henry Cowell explains that Becker “bases his style on the art of the great early vocal polyphonists of the Catholic Church - Palestrina, Vittoria, etc.”. He named many works “soundpieces”, a literal English translation of the word “sonatas” - which gives an indication of the principles on which he based his work. Among his notable works, A Marriage with Space (1935) is often cited as most representative of his ideas of new forms for the stage by incorporating sound, light, dance, and poetry. He was honored late in his career (1958) when his Symphonia Brevis (written in 1930-1931) was performed at Carnegie Hall as part of Bernstein’s series on important American composers. John J. Becker died on January 21, 1961, one day before his 75th birthday.




ACE Publications

27 title(s)
John J. Becker CONCERTO ARABESQUE (Piano and small orchestra_ Piano solo; fl, ob, cl, bsn, cbsn, hn, tpt, 5-pt strings
John J. Becker CONCERTO FOR HORN AND ORCHESTRA horn + orch:2-2-2-2, 0-2-0-0-,TIMP, str
John J. Becker CONCERTO FOR VIOLA and ORCH vla solo, 2222, 2200, timp, vln 1, vln2, vlc, cb
John J. Becker FOUR POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE Sop, or Ten, pf
John J. Becker INDIAN HYMN 2222 2200 timp, strings
John J. Becker MASS IN UNISON OR TWO PARTS (In the Gregorian Manner) Male unison or 2 pt
John J. Becker MISSA SYMPHONICA male choir TTBB
John J. Becker MOCKERY
2 alto saxes/cl, 2 tpt, banjo, bass, drums, piano, tbn, tenor sax, violin I-II
John J. Becker MOMENTS FROM THE LITURGICAL YEAR solo speaker; speaking chorus; chorus; soloist
John J. Becker MONODRAMA 1 Tenor and Piano
John J. Becker MORNING SONG - Motet double chorus SSAATTBB
John J. Becker NUNC, SANCTI, NOBIS, SPIRITUS satb, a cap
John J. Becker OUT OF THE CRADLE ENDLESSLY ROCKING Narrator, S, T, satb ,orch 2-2-2-2; 4-2-0-0, timp, str
John J. Becker POOL ssa, piano
John J. Becker PSALMS OF LOVE med voice, org
John J. Becker RAIN DOWN DEATH 1-1-1-1,1-1-0-0, timp, perc, pf, str
John J. Becker SATIRICO PIANO CONCERTO No. 2 2-2-2-2, 4-2-2-0, timp, perc(2), str
John J. Becker SOUNDPIECE NO 1-B pf, string orchestra
John J. Becker SOUNDPIECE NO 7 2 pianos
John J. Becker SYMPHONIC MOVEMENT (AMERICANA) 2+pic-2+eh-2+bscl-3+cbsn 4-2+2+btbn-1 timp, pf, harm, strings
John J. Becker SYMPHONY 6, Out of Bondage nar, chorus & orch:2-2-2-3-cbsn, 4-2-3-1, timp,perc,str
ACA has parts only
John J. Becker SYMPHONY No. 1 (Etude Primitive) large orchestra

Additional Works