John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes
Kyle Gann, author of seven books on American music, including No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33", explores John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes.
"Those who have an image of Cage as a kind of wild-man composer for whom 'anything goes' are often surprised by the Zen-like calm of most of his prepared piano music."
Pianist Gilles Vonsattel
Unwind with the Ultramodernists
In the late 1920s, a number of the so-called ultramodernists, among them Edgar Varèse, Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford, and Charles Ives, created a short-lived music collective called The Pan American Association of Composers. This organization was founded to encourage experimental music written in both the USA and in Latin America and promote performances of music from the Americas abroad. They presented a number of concerts between their founding in 1928 and their disbanding in 1934, among them the April 1930 Carnegie Hall program shown here, which included works of Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla, Mexican composer Carlos Chávez, and Americans Cowell, Crawford, and Ives.
A Second Fame: Good Food with John Cage
When he wasn’t writing music for prepared piano, John Cage was a passionate and prizewinning mycologist, or mushroom expert. This article, from a 1965 issue of Vogue, includes an interview with the composer and some of his favorite mushroom-based recipes.
Reproduced by kind permission of photographer Bruce Davidson and copywriter Mary Ellin Barrett.
I Believe: Composer Credos
In 1937, John Cage wrote a famous proclamation describing his artistic beliefs and priorities. This “Credo” inspired many subsequent composers to articulate their compositional priorities and practices in such statements. In 1948, Ruth Crawford and Elliott Carter both wrote short “Credos” in response to requests from Edgar Varèse, who was teaching a course on contemporary music at Columbia that included their works. Crawford’s is largely retrospective—by 1948, she was deeply involved in the American folk music revival and her “Credo” lays out the key compositional aims of an earlier phase in her musical career. Carter’s statement ties formal musical elements to his philosophical aims. Though to our knowledge there is not a so-named “Credo” by John Corigliano, the interview below provides some of his reflections on the ways in which his musical priorities and inspirations have evolved over time.
John Cage (1937)
The Future of Music–Credo
I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film, and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored. Whereas, in the past, the point of disagreement has been between dissonance and consonance, it will be, in the immediate future, between noise and so-called musical sounds. The present methods of writing music, principally those which employ harmony and its reference to particular steps in the field of sound, will be inadequate for the composer who will be faced with the entire field of sound. New methods will be discovered, bearing a definite relation to Schoenberg's twelve-tone system and present methods of writing percussion music and any other methods which are free from the concept of a fundamental tone. The principle of form will be our only constant connection with the past. Although the great form of the future will not be as it was in the past, at one time the fugue and at another the sonata, it will be related to these as they are to each other through the principle of organization or man's common ability to think. (Excerpted from a longer essay, full statement can be viewed here.)
Ruth Crawford (1948)
As for a “credo” typifying my music of the type of String Quartet 1931, and Three Songs for Contralto and Orchestra which ISCM [International Society of Contemporary Music] chose for Amsterdam festival back in 1933, I could mention a few points about which I felt strongly. And I still feel strongly about them. I believe when I write more music these elements will be there, or at least striven for:
- Clarity of melodic line
- Avoidance of rhythmic stickiness
- Rhythmic independence between parts
- Feeling of tonal and rhythmic center
- Experiment with various means of obtaining at the same time organic unity and various sorts of dissonance
(From a letter to Edgar Varèse dated May 22, 1948, printed in Matilda Gaume’s Ruth Crawford Seeger: Memoirs, Memories, Music)
Elliott Carter (1948)
As a composer I am primarily concerned with the contrasts and changes of character in music, in plastic flow, in motion from one point to another, and with the expression of feelings as they change smoothly or abruptly, one commenting, amplifying, or denying the other. The interesting operation of cause and effect, of transformation in time, of the whole sense of flow reveals itself in changes of harmony, of rhythm and texture rather than in static repetitions. My music is essentially a kinetic projection of ideas, using perspectives in time. Since I work primarily with this dimension, the actual details of harmony, texture, and tone color are chosen more for their suggestions of motion than for any intrinsic character they might have. On the whole I prefer to use the usual vocabulary of contemporary music and to view it in new temporal sequences.
(From a letter to Edgar Varèse dated June 1948, quoted in James Wierzbicki’s Elliott Carter, printed in Felix Meyer and Anne C. Shreffler’s Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents)