Many of John Cage’s scores seem to allow performers a degree of freedom that often leads to interpretations that, by the composer’s own admission, do not reflect the spirit of the work. This is a problem of both attitude and notation. If we are to continue or reconstruct the tradition, we must look to the one performer in particular who defined and was defined by the performance practice of Cage’s music – the pianist, composer, and electronic musician David Tudor.
The idea of comparing Cage to Rameau and Wagner, should lead us to think about Cage the same way as we look at any other composer from the past or present. What should the path then be for a would-be interpreter of Cage’s music? Performing a piece by Cage is no different from performing a piece by Mozart, except for the mechanics of the execution.
As we approach the Pierrot Lunaire centennial, its instrumentation, once reflective of Viennese weltschmerz, has been internationalized, turned timeless, and endured both modernism and postmodernism. Briefly tracing its legacy reveals a story of artists grappling with tradition as well as practical realities.
When new music groups perform in rock clubs and other similar venues they are counting on these spaces to recontextualize what they do. But what about the venues that make this recontextualization possible? How do their priorities differ from those of more traditional venues? They are an essential part of this trend, but do they know it?
4’33” is often regarded as an end, a philosophical cul-de-sac, but over the course of six decades the negation of music has proved fertile ground for many composers. This appears to have been particularly true in the last 20 years or so, as though the noise of the avant garde’s war of words had itself to subside into silence before we could appreciate 4’33” on its own terms.
Is the idea of government support for the arts un-American? On the contrary. It is as American as apple pie. In the early years of the republic, were our political leaders rubes when it came to music and other arts? Look again. Our iconic founding fathers Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and many of our subsequent presidents had signal public relationships to music and the arts.
From our earliest encounters with music, we are told tales of extraordinary accomplishment by musicians: stories so magnificent that no musicologist could hope to put them into context. It is absurd to think of Mozart applying for graduate school, but we scarcely question a cinematic portrayal of him dictating the Requiem from his deathbed.