Sunday Morning

On Aug. 29, 1952, in an open-air converted barn in Woodstock, N.Y., pianist David Tudor, known for his interpretations of contemporary music, gave the premiere of a work by John Cage (1912-1992) remarkably different from anything else in the classical repertoire. Tudor had been familiar with the full range of the avant-garde, from the spacious pointillism of Morton Feldman’s “Extensions 3” to the thorny complexity of Pierre Boulez’s First Piano Sonata, both of which were also on the program.

For the Cage piece, however, the pianist curiously sat motionless at the keyboard, holding a stopwatch. The composer had indicated three separate movements with specific timings. Keeping an eye on the timepiece, Tudor announced the beginning of each section by closing the keyboard lid, then paused for the required duration before signaling its end by opening the lid again. All the rest was stillness; throughout the performance he didn’t make a sound.

But Cage’s “4’33”” is actually not about silence at all. Though most members of the audience were focused on the absence of music, there were also ambient vibrations they ignored: wind stirring outside, raindrops pattering on the tin roof—and, toward the end of the performance, the listeners themselves making “all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out. Music is continuous,” the composer explained. “It is only we who turn away.”

Stuart Isacoff, from “The Sounds of Silence” (Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2021)


Notes:

Comments

  1. This gave me chills. A very powerful performance, indeed

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with Beth – powerful…and the sentiment about the continuity of music…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I could perform this piece, with enough practice…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The things you introduce us to! This was indeed powerful. I was disturbed (cuss, swear, curse) by my phone ringing!. How dare this performance be disturbed by the chiming of a phone!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I decided to play the piece with him. I followed along with all his movements and it became a surprisingly intense journey into both silence and sound.

    And thank you — my father was a huge music aficionado (he had a collection of over 2,000 LPs) and Cage was part of his collection which he’d occasionally play — in particular, Water Music – I don’t think I’ve listened to any John Cage since my father passed away in 1995 — so I went on a lovely journey after immersing myself in this piece… and btw — my right arm is very tired now! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I could play that piece! Would I then be famous too?

    Liked by 1 person

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