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It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
The above has been making rounds and igniting fierce combat on Facebook; I'm surprised it has not made it into here yet. It's an interesting read that should make for a lively discussion. I have some thoughts about it that I'll post a bit later on.
Loc: Leicester, UK
I'm very surprised at how narrowly and shallowly the author critiques Cage. There's a part as well that he didn't mention, which is Schoenberg asked Cage to write several solutions to a particular cantus firmus. Cage is reported to have said this taught him not that one version is better than another but rather alternatives always exist.
In any case, it's unfortunate the writer has such limited scope. He totally misses and misinterprets Cafe's accomplishments. In particular just as there are fabulous visual artists whose work consists of institutional critique so it is w/Cage - his compositions and the presuppositions on which he based them are a critique of the tradition of which he knew himself to be a part.
I doubt Cage would have spent even seconds reading and thinking about DA's review.
I remember hearing some positive review of Asia's music some years ago, and I remember how disappointing it was when I actually heard some of it. Although "professional", it turns out to be not very interesting, rather like that kind of artwork found in some big hotel chains and corporate conference rooms that is mostly intended to be inoffensive decoration, while still pretending to be "real art". You know, because somebody actually made it by hand.
After experiencing some of his music, it doesn't surprise that he would be the author of some clueless but attention-getting anti-Cage screed. I couldn't work up enough interest to finish it - it's as dull and uninspired as his music.
Loc: South Carolina
Yes, There must be some sort of editorial interference being run from the powers that be at huffpost....I can't imagine that anyone with even the pretension of being an academic would write such a sloppy, careless piece....
Piano performance and instruction (former college music professor).
1. First of all, I'm against this kind of hostility in any article. Degrading anyone is bad enough, but doing it like this? Come on... DA has to do better than this.
But anyhow let me carry on, without linking to youtube actually...
2. Cage was a thinker, along with being a composer. And he wasn't what we generally refer to 'composer' (as in compose (nice) music that we can listen to). In fact one of his most infamous works is 4'33". A piece of total silence.
So let me discuss a little bit about 4'33" and see if I can explain a bit better, why this work IS important, if taken as a work. (and my opposition to something else, btw).
Cage was having a lot of questions in the nature of silence. Ultimately he went to an echoless (unechoic?) room and remained there for a tiny bit utterly quiet. The room was of course sound proof as well. But instead of total silence he was met with 2 different sounds: His heart and his pulse.
So he came to a conclusion that total silence is non existent. And as such it HAS to be important. So important and so always there, that we forget about it. And 4'33" is the concert hall piece of that. It's of course a very silly wink in the eye as well (at least I think) to the classical world, especially when you see it performed in the Proms! (there's a video of that in youtube! ).
Cage was also very interested in chance music, and he used the iching (correct me if I'm wrong) to check out various possibilities. He made a number of lectures with quadraple texts on top of each other, and radios playing, etc.
He was (most probably) obsessed with the lack of control by the composer and the performers. Thus the idea of throwing in a radio, and a toilet, etc...
I should note that my distaste for traditional publishers (while I'm also one) was amplified when I found out that the score of 4'33" was sold!
2. Now, one of his other most notable ideas (<- idea. Not work... See? He was a conceptionalist rather than a 'classical' composer!!!) was the prepared piano. The story goes that he had to compose music for a ballet (single person) who was from Brazil and only a piano was available. So he started putting things in the piano to alter its sound.
And it worked GREAT! Brilliant! Beautiful in fact.
His sonatas and interludes for prepared piano, are in fact very nice works. They sound like contemporary (2013) loops, or drums, or other beats.
And he did it back in the 50s, and 60s...
I do believe that he studied with Arnold (as mentioned in the article) and with others as well... But we do need to remember that Arnold, even with working with twelve tone, etc, was a very competent teacher and a master of traditional harmony. In fact his book on harmony is great (if you take into account that it was written 80 years ago, right?).
As I said in my previous post, it's idiotic (at least) to be comparing Cage with Stravinsky. Cage music is, to begin with, very difficult to be put in a recording, exactly because of the chance encounters that it requires! It has to be felt live! Joe can probably say more about this.
But I'd like to offer to Daniel another idea: Why not compare Stravinsky and Bach and see who's the greatest, huh? I mean it's only some years apart (200+). And they are different. Exactly like Cage and Stravinsky are.
One should be oblivious to the fact that in the 20th century (and 21st) we have ALL the previous trends running at the same time: You get classical, baroque, serialism, soundz, beats, hip-hop, etc. You just cannot compare different styles like that, especially when you're talking about avant garde. Why not try Stravinsky vs. Queen for example? What? Not the same... bah...
I don't think one can perform 4'33'' without a score - the audience will just think you're improvising . Just like many pianist-composers who play their own music from the score (even though they know it backwards) while dispensing with it for Chopin, Beethoven etc in the rest of their concert.
But I was at a music store recently and found the Urtext edition costing $10. Cheap at the price.
Incidentally, Cage's Piano Concerto (for prepared piano and chamber orchestra) was also played at the Proms (last year) - a lovely piece it is too.
I didn't have it in me to read the whole article, but from what I could gather, all it says is that he just doesn't like Cage's music, and unwittingly he shows that he just doesn't get the music and is too closed-minded to realize it.
You do need a watch or preferably a stopwarch. There are three movements; each has its own timing and (I'm trying to recall the score here) you should perform some action or gesture that makes it clear one movement is ending and the next is starting.
I just had a brief glance at the article. How amazing that, of all of Cage's output he chose to critique the Sonatas and Interludes, one of the loveliest and most accessible early works. What would he have said about the purely chance-derived music!
I remember Dan Asia; I think I even played in a New York ensemble he conducted, probably over 20 years ago. I wouldn't have expected this from him. But then I don't know his own composed music.
....you should perform some action or gesture that makes it clear one movement is ending and the next is starting....
But that's not by any means certain, and shows that even for this piece, interpretation is involved.
(No smiley, because that's serious.)
I don't recall seeing any such instructions on the score of 4'33'' that I saw in the music shop. It was a blank page with a few random minute ink spots which I presume was Cage's own, not a mistake at the printer.
And in the Proms performance I watched (an entirely serious performance, I should add), I didn't see any gestures from the conductor.
P.S. I can't believe we're discussing this work (or piece) in such detail. Cage must be rolling over in his grave, doubled up with
For those, like me, not familiar with Cage's music, it would be far more convincing if those that disagree with the article mention some specific points of disagreement and why they disagree.
If you're completely unfamiliar with the music, I don't think anything I can say will resonate.
But did you read the article? There's nothing in it to disagree with, no substance meriting debate or argument. All I got was (1) author doesn't like Cage's music, and (2) Cage's music isn't music (or isn't good music) because it doesn't do the things that good music does. The first is totally uninteresting. The second is a tautology, and particularly obtuse since one of Cage's major achievements was to help us expand or re-think our notions about what music can be, and to experience it in different ways. Then there were bits about Cage not being as important as Schoenberg or Stravinsky, and not deserving the airtime he's getting this year, which whatever.
Kyle Gann, a composer, teacher, and writer (he was music critic for the Village Voice for almost two decades), has written a very interesting book about Cage and 4'33", called No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage's 4'33". Although the focused on the piece, it is so rich in context that it almost becomes a survey of the arts of the time. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, not dry at all, and recommend it to anybody even mildly interested. At Amazon.com link I give, you can preview a number of pages, although it's too bad so many of them are of the preface, which seems a bit strange. But there's a good deal of the first chapter, too.