John Cage (1912-1992)

Studied with Cowell (1933) and Schoenberg (1933-36)

Cage about Schoenberg:

After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

“[…] When he said that, I revolted, not against him, but against what he had said. I determined then and there, more than ever before, to write music.”
Schoenberg about Cage:
“Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor—of genius.”
Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-8)
Sonatas 1, 3 and 5:
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Table of Preparations + Score:

Important ideas and questions about Cage:

  • Music is Organized Sound
  • What is sound and what is noise?
  • Experimental music is music of which its outcome is unknown
  • Indeterminacy and chance
  • Indeterminacy of composition / performance
  • Non-intentionality

Cage talking about silence

Can any sound be used to make music?

John Cage performing “Water Walk” in January, 1960 on the popular TV show I’ve Got A Secret.

What about kitchen sounds?

Any sound???

Performed by Aki Takahashi, Six layered piano parts, to be played by six pianists or through the use of playback techniques. The work consists of parts of various Beatles songs, equipped with time brackets. Tempo is left to the performer(s). Octave transpositions are allowed.

The work was written for a project by Aki Takahashi who had asked several composers to write a work related to a Beatles-title and was recorded on a CD named “Hyper Beatles”

John Cage performing on Nam June Paik’s TV special called ‘Good Morning Mr. Orwell’ from 1984.

Speech (1955)

Finally, 4’33” (1952) …

and a dude’s version:

Q1. What is the role of silence in music?

Q2. What does Cage mean when he says: “Silence is Traffic”?

Q3. In what ways does this idea of silence relate to a music that is governed by chance, indeterminacy and non-intentionality?


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