Didactics for John Cage: Scores from the Early 1950s
Peter Gena

1. Music of Changes, 1951
Ink on paper
16 of 86 sheets, Parts I-IV
12 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. each sheet
Collection of Northwestern University Music Library,
John Cage Notation Collection

Events, tempi, durations, sounds, and dynamics were selected—from pre-compositional charts set up by Cage—by the method used in the I CHING. Placed in spatial notation (2-1/2 centimeters to the quarter-note), successive durations are segmented through an additive choice of fractions, and are practically infinite in variety. Active engagement of the pedals is indicated during both sound and silence. The speed of travel across the staves, though often unpredictable (ambiguities are often intentional), changes with each new tempo indication. Sound events are meant to enter this time-space continuum centered only on themselves with no history or influence exerted on previous or subsequent incidents.

2. Haiku, 1952
Ink on paper
1 sheet: 5 x 12 1/4 in., 1 envelope: 5 1/2 x 14 in.
Collection of Peter and Rhoda Gena
Glenview, Illinois

Notated in space-time proportion (each quarter-note equals 5/8 inch), the speed of which varies according to the tempo markings (large numbers), and some of the sparse durations are represented by irrational numbers.

3. Original Score 4'33", 1952
Autograph manuscript signed: 3 folded leaves ([12] pages).
Description: 2 bifolia leaves in a wrapper written on onion-skin
paper, each separate sheet 11 x 17 in., each sheet with the
watermark “The Maestro Method Independent Music Publishers
New York.” On the wrapper is the title, instructions, and the
composer’s signature. Folio 1: dedication “For Irwin Kremen.”
(Facsimile, reduced in size, published in Source: music of the
avant garde, 1967, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 46-57. Eleven pages also
reproduced in Raum Zeit Stille, Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1985, pp. 80-86.)
Lent by Irwin Kremen, Durham, North Carolina.

Unlike Water Music, the horizontal time-space in 4'33" (7 inches equals 56") specifies no intentional events except vertical bar-lines which indicate beginnings (60 on top) and endings (i.e. 30"). It consists of three movements with their combined lengths (30", 2'23", 1'40") adding up to the total duration indicated by the title.

4. Music for Carillon No. 1, 1952
3 octave version
1 title page, 5 pages of scores, ink on score sheets
6 sheets, 12 x 8 1/2 in. each sheet
Courtesy of Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York

When Cage discovered that the resonating times of carillon bells were too difficult to accurately measure, he embarked on his first departure from specific duration. The music was initially generated over a grid with intersecting structural lines, and elaborate stencils were used to randomly place points (notes) on the graph. Pitch was represented vertically, and time horizontally (each square = 1/4 second). The composer subsequently transcribed the points into pitches of free duration (note-heads without stems) for the actual score seen here.

5. Water Music, 1952
India ink on paper
each of 10 sheets: 11 x 17 in.
(60 3/4 x 39 1/2 x 1 5/8 on. framed)
colophon sheet: 9 1/2 x 16 in.
Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art,
purchased with funds from an anonymous donor, 82.38 a-j

In addition to playing intervals and chords, the pianist is instructed to produce “unmusical” sounds by slamming down the keyboard lid, dealing playing cards onto the strings, and turning a radio on and off. Water is poured back-and-forth into receptacles and used in a whistle. The score is read conventionally from left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and the passage of time is indicated by specific lengths, as in Cage’s earlier work but without bar-line notation. Instead, events are measured in clock-time and are not always spatially proportional.

6. Music for Piano 69-84, 1956
Ink on paper
18 pages inclusive of 1 title page,
1 page of instructions, 16 pages of score
Courtesy of Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York

Here Cage went a step further than in Music for Carillon No. 1 by placing duration-free notes directly on points where he found imperfections in the paper used for the score — thus using it as its own stencil. The number of sounds (and the individual articulations) per page were determined by the I CHING; dynamics are free. Each piece is restricted to one page. Any or all of this group of sixteen pieces, and any or all of the other sets of sixteen (4-19 [1953], 21-36 [1955], 37-52 [1955], and 53-68 [1956]) may be performed alone or together by multiple pianists in any combination, in succession or simultaneity, for any length of time, and with silence in between or overlapping. The total performance time fit the predetermined length of a whole concert or a part of one.

Re & Not Re Cage | Gena Web