the music of justin merritt

2013 Headshot SmallComposer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation/Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the 2011-12 McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Prize, and the Polyphonos Prize.

He received his Bachelors from Trinity University and his Masters and Doctorate from Indiana University. He studied composition with Samuel Adler, Sven-David Sandstrom, Claude Baker, Timothy Kramer, Don Freund, and electronic and computer music with Jeffrey Hass. He is currently Associate Professor of Composition at St. Olaf College. He resides in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife Faye and their children Cullen Fang Ouxiang and Molly Fang Qinghe.


Everywhere Entangledbuy now
recorded by The University of Houston Percussion Ensemble
includes Sturm und Drang

American Lyricismbuy now
recorded by Christopher Atzinger
include Chaconne: Mercy Endures

piano music of Justin Merritt
recorded by Matthew McCright

Christmas In Norwaybuy now
recorded by the St. Olaf Choir
includes Corde Natus



string orchestra

orchestra and choir

Peter Jacobi, Herald Times

Several times I wrote “Wow!” next to a work being played.


a cappella

Corde natus buy here

with nordic fiddle or a cappella

orchestra and choir

Downtown Music Gallery CD newsletter from NYC

Blender throws together a potent mixture of energetic works by Minnesota-based composer Justin Merritt, performed by athletic pianist Matthew McCright.

The Blender Project, which includes several pieces scattered throughout the album, arose from a simple question: what kind of music would sound good in a bar attached to a bowling alley?

Merritt began working on a series of high potency pieces for amplified piano with live electronic manipulation, creating duos between the musician at the piano and the musician at the laptop. What emerges is a picture of a composer deeply engaged with the possibilities of the piano, in both traditional and boundary-breaking ways, and a musician deftly handling the diverse demands of that composer’s pieces.


Peter Schimpf, Bloomington Independent

Various works for solo piano appeared throughout the year, but the highlight came Nov. 9 with Justin Merritt’s 5 Preludes for piano.





flute and electronics

violin or cello and piano


clarinet and fixed media

solo percussion with optional live electronics

Rob Hubbard, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Justin Merritt describes River of Blood as being inspired by the 1980 massacre in El Salvador. But it would demand an audience’s attention even if they were unaware of that. Merritt seems to have the strongest sense of dynamics of any of the seven composers, most notably when a storm of percussion gives way to a sorrowful solo viola. For singularity of style, Merritt’s piece was the standout.



baritone, clarinet, and piano (or harp)

baritone and cello

baritone and viola

baritone, clarinet, and piano

tenor, horn, violin, and piano

2 sopranos, strings, and harp


percussion ensemble

string quartet

string quartet and harp

clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

2 percussion and piano

pipa, clarinet, piano, and percussion
or flute, cello, and piano

7 solo brass

clarinet, cello, percussion, and live electronics

chamber concerto for violin or viola

violin, cello, and piano

chamber concerto for viola and cello

Benjamin Frandze, The San Francisco Classical Voice

Merritt has a fine ear for instrumental color and know how to exploit the virtuoso resources of an ensemble as fine as this one.

new media

solo percussion with optional live electronics

clarinet, cello, percussion, and live electronics

clarinet and fixed media

flute and electronics

piano and live electronics

Diane Windeler, San Antonio Express-News

Merritt uses unexpected shifts in tempo and tonality for dramatic effect: long, simple lines with echoing violin and horn phrases reflect the singer’s musing. As his unease increases, so does the music, in an undercurrent of skittery, edgy passages and tight harmonics. Bold use of clashing chromatics intensifies the experience, especially in the score’s starkly luminous finale.