B. Peterson: A Century of Musicals in Black and White (Westport, CT, 1993)
THOMAS L. RIIS
(b Davenport, IA, 15 March 1924; d Seattle, 5 March 1977). American composer, music publisher and pianist. He studied composition with George McKay at the University of Washington (1938–42) and after military service joined the faculty there to teach piano and theory (1947–9). He was music director of the Eleanor King Dance Company (1947–50) and the pianist of the Seattle SO (1948–51); during these years he performed extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest in chamber ensembles and as a soloist.
In 1951 Johnson moved to New York, where he worked in the music publishing business as education director for Mercury Music (1951–4), head of the orchestral department at C.F. Peters (1954–8) and president of Dow Publishers (1957–62). After returning to Seattle, he served at the helm of the Cornish School of Music (1962–9) and in 1970 founded Puget Music Publications, a firm devoted to the publication of works by composers of the Pacific Northwest.
An active composer throughout his career, Johnson wrote chiefly chamber and piano compositions in a lyrical and dramatic style. A number of his works were quite successful during his lifetime; his one-act chamber opera A Letter to Emily, based on an incident in the life of Emily Dickinson, was staged nearly 50 times during the decade following its composition (1951). He received numerous commissions, a Guggenheim Fellowship (1952) and two MacDowell Colony Fellowships (1956, 1965). He contributed many articles to the Piano Quarterly, the American Composers Alliance Bulletin and other periodicals.
Stage: She (ballet), op.28, 1948, rev. 1950; A Letter to Emily (chbr op, 1, Johnson, after R. Hupton), op.37, 1951; King Lear (incid music, W. Shakespeare)