Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, August 29

John Cage at Woodstock

Synopsis

On today's date in 1952, at the aptly named Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, pianist David Tudor premiered two new works by the American composer John Cage.

The first, titled "Water Music," was scored for a "prepared piano" — a piano into whose metal strings various items had been inserted to alter its sound — plus a duck call and transistor radio. For the second work, Tudor simply closed the lid of the piano, set a stopwatch for the length of the work's four sections — 4 minutes and 33 seconds to be exact — and then sat quietly on the piano bench. The composition consisted of whatever sounds occurred in that amount of time at that particular moment in time, including any breathing, coughing or snickering from the audience.

Some likened the piece to the all-white canvases of the avant-garde painter Robert Rauschenberg, on which accidental aspects of dust or bumps in the canvas created an arbitrary texture. Others thought it an outrageous affront at worst, or a bad joke at best. Whatever else one might think of it, as pianist David Tudor put it, "Cage's 4:33 is one of the most intense listening experiences one can have."

Cage once said: "I'm interested in making sounds that I don't understand," and insisted that random, unplanned sounds were as welcome to his ears as those he organized himself, as in this Cage piece for prepared piano titled "Mysterious Adventure."

Music Played in Today's Program

John Cage (1912-1992) Nos. 5 and 12, fr Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano Robert Miller, p. New World 80203

Additional Information

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