Personalities | John Cage | Contemporary | Classical

American composer

Cage’s initial studies led to a devotion to Schoenberg and the new method of serialism, but this early fascination did not stay long in his music. In 1939 he composed First Construction (In Metal), which bases its structure on durations and not harmony. It was also around this time that Cage first began to use the prepared piano, an instrument that was to become central to his compositional aesthetic. This is a normal piano with everyday items such as rubber bands and screws inserted between the strings to alter the sound. It was one such work – Sonatas and Interludes (1946–48) – that impressed Boulez when Cage visited Paris in 1949. In the late 1940s, he began to develop a strong interest in silence, rooted in the philosophies of Asian religions. Initially Cage used such means as the prepared piano to write music with ‘silent’ harmony, but on hearing Feldman’s Extensions 1 (a graphic composition where only the number and register of pitches are indicated) he found a whole new level of compositional silence. This reached its zenith in 4’33” (1952), which consists only of the noises made by audience members and the outside world. The late 1950s and 60s were largely spent in discussion of his musical philosophy. From the 1970s onwards, Cage began to write prolifically again, with the same chance elements, often in response to commissions from performers.

Recommended Recording:
Fourteen, Ives Ensemble (Hat-Hut)

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