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JOHN CAGE

 

 

 

Biographical Information

 

Born:  September 5, 1912 in Los Angeles, California

Died:  August 12, 1992

 

Composer, conductor, performer, painter, philosopher, poet, and a leading mushroom expert.

 

Began by studying piano.  Traveled to Paris to study piano and architecture.

 

Had two years of college but dropped out.

“I was shocked at college to see one hundred of my classmates in the library all reading copies of the same book.  Instead of doing as they did, I went into the stacks and read the first book written by an author whose name began with Z.  I received the highest grade in the class.  That convinced me that the institution was not being run correctly.  I left.”

 

Began composing in the 1930s.  Composition teachers included Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and finally Arnold Schoenberg.

 

Thoughts on Music

 

“I could not accept the academic idea that the purpose of music was communication, because I noticed that when I conscientiously wrote something sad, people and critics were often apt to laugh”  Instead, he felt “the purpose of music is to sober and quite the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences…the responsibility to the artist is to imitate nature in her manner of operation.

 

Leaned from his father that when someone says that you can’t do something, they have just shown you what to do.

 

Whatever happens is okay, but he prefers laughter to tears.

 

Music = the organization of sound.

 

“Is a truck passing by music?  Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”

 

 

Compositional Periods

 

Apprenticeship Period (1932-1938)

 

Examples:

Quartet

Trio

 

Romantic Period (1938-1950)

 

Examples:

Music for Aquatic Ballet

First Construction

Imaginary Landscape No. 1

Living Room Music

Second Construction

Third Construction

Amores

 

Chance and Indeterminacy (1951-1969)

 

 

Examples:
4’33”

Water Music

Radio Music

27’10.554

 

Words and Environments (1970-1987)

 

Examples:

Child of Tree

Food

Ryoanji

But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper…

 

Number Period (1987-1992)

 

Examples:

Seven

One4

Five4

 

Throughout his life, Cage worked with and was influenced by several other arts outside of the field of music, including modern dancer, Merce Cunningham and the painter, Rouschenberg. 

 

 

Use of Percussion

 

Cage plotted the next course of percussion ensemble music that began with Varese’s Ionization.

 

Because Cage hated harmony, he started to work with rhythm instead.  In 1936 he began working with a filmmaker, Oskar Fischinger, who make him interested in all form of noise.  He said, “everything in the world has its own spirit which can be released by setting it into vibration.”  He began experiencing with sounds obtainable from hitting or rubbing anything that he could fine.  From 1937-1939 he toured playing his music with a percussion ensemble.  During this time, he didn’t write for specific instruments because he didn’t know what he would be able to find and/or rent.

 

“Percussion music is a contemporary transition from keyboard-influenced music to the all-sound music of the future.  Any sound is acceptable to the composer of percussion music.”

 

Percussion is completely open.  It is not even open-ended.  It has no end.  It is not like the strings, the winds, the brass (I am thinking of the other sections of the orchestra), thought when they fly the coop of harmony it can tech them a thing or two.  If you are not hearing music, percussion is exemplified by the very next sound you actually hear wherever you are, in or out of doors of city.  Planet?  The strings, the winds, the brass know more about music than they do about sound.  To study noise they must go to the school of percussion.  There they will discover silence, a way to change one’s mind; and aspects of time that have not yet been put into practice.”

 

“Two percussion instruments of the same kind are not more alike than two people who happen to have the same name.”

 

He had a special fondness for the water gong and it was inserted into many of his pieces. 

 

Love of percussion brought about the prepared piano.  The piano was transformed into a percussion orchestra.

 

Collaborated with Lou Harrison on many of his percussion projects, including Double Music.  Harrison’s compositions are known for their use of Asian influenced instruments.

 

Cage was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1982.

 

 

Percussion Music Focus

 

 

Living Room Music (1940)

1.      To Begin

2.      Story

3.      Melody

4.      End

 

 

 

Imaginary Landscape No. 2 (1942)

1.      5 tin cans, conch shell

2.      5 tin cans

3.      5 tin cans

4.      ratchet, bass drum, buzzer, water gong, metal wastebasket

5.      coil of wire, buzzer, lion’s roar

 

Double Music (1941)

1.      6 graduated water buffalo bells, 6 graduated muted brake drums,

2.      2 sistra, 6 graduated sleigh bells, 6 brake drums, thunder sheet

3.      3 graduated Japanese temple gongs, tam tam, 6 graduated cowbells

4.      6 muted Chinese gongs, tam tam, water gong

 

Amores for Prepared Piano and Percussion (1943)

1.      Solo for Prepared Piano

2.      Trio (9 tom-toms, pod rattle)

3.      Trio (7 woodblocks, not Chinese)

4.      Solo for Prepared Piano

 

 

Other Notable Percussion Pieces by John Cage

 

27’ 10.554 For a Percussionist

First Construction (in Metal) for Prepared Piano and Percussion

Second Construction

She is Asleep

Third Construction, for Percussion Quartet

 

 

 

Useful Web Sites about John Cage

 

Autobiographical statement

Newalbion.com/artists/cagej/autobiog.html

 

Quotes from John Cage

www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/cage-quotes.html

 

Chronology of his music

www.azstarnet.com/~solo/cageopus.htm

 

Discography of his music

Newalbion.com/artists/cagej/discog/instrum.html

 

 

 

SOURCES

 

 

 

Cage, John.  A Year From Monday.  Wesleyan University Press.  Middletown, Connecticut.  1963. 

 

Ewen, David.  The World of Twentieth Century Music.  Prentice-Hall, Inc.  London.  1968.  Pgs. 135-140.

 

Gena, Peter and Brent, Jonathan.  A John Cage Reader.  C. F. Peters Corporation.  New York.  1982.  Pgs. 184-207.

 

Perlogg, Marjorie and Junkermann, Charles.  John Cage:  Composed in America.  The University of Chicago Press.  Chicago.  1994. 

 

Whittall, Arnold.  The Music of John Cage.  Cambridge University Press.  Cambridge.  1993.

 

Miller, Allan.  John Cage:  I Have Nothing to Say and I am Saying It.  RM Arts.  The Music Project for Television, Inc. And American Masters.  1990.  VHS Recording.

 

 

 

Web Sites:

 

Newalbion.com/artists/cagej/autobiog.html

 

www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/cage-quotes.html

 

www.azstarnet.com/~solo/cageopus.htm

 

Newalbion.com/artists/cagej/discog/instrum.html

 

 

 

Discography:

 

Quatuor Helios.  John Cage:  Works for Percussion.  WERGO Schallplatten GmbH.  Mainz, Germany.  1991.

 

A Chance Operation:  The John Cage Tribute.  KOCK International.  New York.  1993.