John Cage’s Greatest Hits
This eBookini will tell you a lot about John Cage and several of his most important compositions. There’s a lot to know and this eBookini is a great place to start.
Counting the number of composers and musicians that learned from him, understanding the importance of the new musical ideas that he pioneered, and being aware of the public that was scandalized by his music, I’d elect John Cage as the most influential and revolutionary of 20th century composers.
But what exactly, you might ask, did Cage do?
First, he pioneered what I’ve called “the great opening up of music to all sounds”. In 1937, in a talk titled ‘The Future of Music: Credo’, Cage said, “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 …”
Second, from the early 1950s, as against a traditional compositional process in which composers fix sounds in static relationships, he thought of composition as a dynamic process involving performers’ decisions and random numbers.
But it’s one thing to list Cage’s accomplishments. It’s another thing to understand them in the context of music history and in the context of the man’s life. And that’s where Kostelanetz comes in.
This eBookini — i.e. this short eBook — by Kostelanetz introduces Cage and his accomplishments in a very enjoyable and extremely informative way. And through Kostelanetz’s introduction of the man and then a discussion of what he views as Cage’s most important works, we get to know Cage as a person and how he thought about what he did. In short, we begin to understand Cage the artist.
Kostelanetz’s vehicle for conveying this understanding is his choice of what he considers Cage’s signature compositions. In a charming personal literary style, Kostelanetz tells us why he considers the following works to be Cage’s greatest hits.
He starts with Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1948), which, he points out, exhaustively climaxes Cage’s transformation of the piano into a percussion instrument by placing screws and bits of rubber between the strings.
He discusses HPSCHD (1969), for seven harpsichords, fifty-two computer-generated tapes, several thousand images, composed with Lejaren Hiller as collaborator, and arguably one of the largest and wildest compositions of the 20th century.
He tells us about Roaratorio (1979), which combines a major collage of sounds mentioned by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake with live Irish folksong musicians.
And he describes Europeras I/II (1987), an immense assemblage of song, scenery, and costume from 19th-century European opera.
Kostelanetz also mentions other works, discussing Cage’s Song Books (1970), for example, as book-art as much as it is about music.
Reading this eBookini is a great experience, informative, interesting, altogether a pleasure, and by the time you’ve finished it, you’ll not only understand a lot about Cage and his music, you’ll want to read it again.
— Joel Chadabe