MacArthur Fellows Program

John C. Eaton

Composer | Class of 1990

Bloomington, Indiana
55 at time of award
December 2, 2015
Published August 1, 1990

About John's Work

John Eaton, a composer in many genres, is an innovator in American opera and in the composition and performance of electronic and microtonal music.

Eaton’s operas include Myshkin (1970), Danton and Robespierre (1978), The Cry of Clytaemnestra (1980), and The Tempest (1985).  In his chamber, vocal, and orchestral music, Eaton expands the traditional tools of the composer through the use of microtonal scales--scales employing more than the traditional twelve tones per octave--and electronic instruments, such as the Syn-Ket.  He is also the co-inventor of the Eaton-Moog Multiple-Touch-Sensitive Keyboard, a synthesizer that is sensitive to the pressure and placement of the fingers.


He is the founder of the Pocket Opera Players (1992) a small, innovative opera company conceived to tour easily, perform original music in nontraditional venues, and allow instrumentalists to take part in the expressive action of the opera.  He has performed extensively as a jazz pianist, taught at the University of Indiana, and was composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome.  Eaton is the Professor Emeritus of Music Composition at the University of Chicago.

Eaton received a B.A. (1957) and an M.F.A. (1959) from Princeton University.

Recent News

In addition to those mentioned above, John Eaton has composed three Grand Operas: The Reverend Jim Jones (1988), Losing Paradise (2008), and King Lear (2012). He has also written and performed with his opera company, the Pocket Opera Players, over ten new Pocket Operas, nearly all of which were warmly accepted by public and critics alike. He has also written a number of chamber works, including a twenty-five minute song cycle, “The End of It” (2014), commissioned by the Contempo Ensemble (which consists of Pacifica Quartet and Eighth Blackbird plus soprano soloist and harp).

Updated July 2015

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