America 1: Silencing Music, 1946-1952

Rhythmic Structuring

The principal work of his own that Cage took with him to Paris in 1949 was his book of Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano ( 1946-8), one of the largest of several compositions from that decade in which he adjusted the timbres of the piano by inserting foreign objects between the strings: the printed music includes a'table of preparations' which gives instructions for the placing of screws, nuts, bolts, and pieces of plastic and rubber to alter the sounds of forty-five notes, so that the piano comes to make largely unpitched noises like those of drums, gongs, and rattles. Preparation of the piano offered the composer the opportunity to explore and transform his sound material in a very direct manner, by inviting an empirical mode of working similar to that being made possible by the electronic medium. Indeed, the prepared piano was perhaps consciously developed as a home-made substitute for the synthesizer of the future. In 1937 Cage had expressed his optimistic view of the potential electronic evolution of music,1 and in 1942 -- after he had made his first electronic experiments, beginning with the 1939 Imaginary Landscape No. 1, for instruments including two variable-speed turntables with frequency recordings -- he had been more specific: 'Many musicians,' he had written, 'the writer included, have dreamed of compact technological boxes, inside which all audible sounds, including noise, would be ready to come forth at the command of the composer.'2 In this article he had gone on to describe the work he had recently done at a Chicago radio station, using electrical gadgets (buzzers, amplified coils of wire, a radio, and a gramophone) in various pieces made on to disc for broadcast.

If in their experimental approach to sound the Sonatas and Interludes relate to Cage's electronic essays, they also connect with his earlier works for his own percussion orchestra, such as the First Construction (in Metal) for six players ( 1939), since the prepared piano is effectively a one-man percussion group. This concentration on percussive sonorities was a central item of musical principle, for it dramatized the need, as Cage saw it, for music to be structured on the basis of duration (possessed by all kinds of sound, and by silence) rather than harmony (possessed only by pitched tones in combination). His ' Defense of Satie',3 a lecture delivered soon after the completion of the Sonatas and Interludes, charges Beethoven with

____________________
1
The Future of Music: Credo, in Silence, Lectures and Writings ( London, 1968), 3-7.
2
"For More New Sounds", in Richard Kostelanetz(ed.), John Cage ( London, 1971), 65.

-21-

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Modern Music and After
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Music Acknowledgements v
  • Contents xi
  • Prelude xiii
  • Part I - Beginning Again: from 1945 to the Early 1960s 1
  • Europe 1: Commencement, 1945-1951 3
  • America 1: Silencing Music, 1946-1952 21
  • Europe 2: Total Organization, 1949-1954 29
  • America 2: Classic Modernism 50
  • Europe 3: Achievement, 1953-1957 70
  • America 3: After Silence, 1952-1961 94
  • Europe 4: Mobile Form, 1956-1962 104
  • Elder Responses 116
  • Europe 5: Disintegrations,1959-1964 135
  • Part II - Six Waves and Five Masters: the 1960s and 1970s 149
  • Of Elsewhen and Elsewhere 151
  • Music Theatre 171
  • Politics 185
  • Virtuosity and Improvisation 191
  • Computer Music 207
  • Minimalism and Melody 209
  • Five Masters 225
  • Part III - Many Rivers: the 1980s and 1990s 237
  • Strings and Knots 239
  • Postlude 328
  • Repertory 330
  • Index 363
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