Sunday, February 05, 2006


Totem Ancestor

Welcome to the 2nd to last day of the Cageblog.  Tonight I’ll cover a wide swath of miscellaneous pieces, and tomorrow we’ll end with a set of mostly piano music.  

I should say this is not truly the second-to-last day of reviewing because there’s some forthcoming releases by OgreOgress of otherwise unrecorded works (I am personally rather excited about the harp work, Postcard from Heaven).  Andre of is also donating a few obscure items.  That the list of “unowned Cage” is now down to 8, the first two I will break down and buy myself at some point (an aunt bought them for Christmas but they never arrived), two more are pretty irrelevant (an excerpt of a text piece and an arrangement).  The only truly significant work left is Song Books which is closer to theater than music, and thus hasn’t been recorded in a complete version very often at all.  

The final of the eight items can now be removed, thanks to this website:
which provides QuickTime audio of the Reunion performance.  I’ll need to add that to my list of things to cover; I only found it tonight!

Additionally, there’s apparently a recording of Eight from Megadisc out there, even though I can’t find it easily.  I continue to be on the hunt for Italians and Frenchpeople willing to assist in grabbing up the other two, Lullaby and Il Treno.    

Anyway, here’s tonight’s playlist:

Crete and Dad
Both these were written in 1945, and are extremely brief character sketches of Cage’s mother Lucretia (Crete) and father John Milton (Dad).  Crete is soft and melodic, with a seriousness to it.  Dad is a bit more jovial and bouncy, almost.  It’s also much more brief; the piece ends with the theme from Crete, suggesting Cage’s mothers dominance.

Cheap Imitation for orchestra
This is a 1972 work for 24 to 95 performers, without conductor.  The piano composition is divided up among the orchestra members using chance operation, each phrase being also subjected to chance operations to determine which notes and played and for how long.  

The reader might recall my dissatisfaction with the piano and violin versions of these works, which were certainly pretty boring.  The multitude of instruments makes this recording (one from radio donated by Lothar) much more beautiful, though.  Still, the piece does go on for awhile, and has a very dead feel to it.  Cheap Imitation, in my mind, is one of Cage’s least interesting works to hear.  Maybe it’s because it sounds, on the surface, like fairly traditional music, but yet it never seems to go anywhere the way a “normal” piece would.   And because the chance modifications to the original music are not, to my ear, as obvious as in the case of Apartment House 1776...I just can’t think of much to recommend it.  That being said, the orchestra version is easily the best of all the versions, and I don’t mind listening to it the way that the versions for violin and piano kind of annoyed me.

Well, OK, I have one complaint: the “finale” is a bit too extended.  Around minute eighteen you hear spaced single tones, played in almost a dramatic manner, which suggest the end of the music approaching...and approaching...and approaching...until it finally ends four minutes later.  I was eager for it to be done a bit sooner, I think!

Opening Dance for Sue L.
The last letters of the script titling the piece are illegible, but it’s probably for Sue Laub.  The work was likely written around 1940, and has a lot in common with other music from the period: strong rhythms, repeated themes, and a somewhat nervous, dramatic character.  It wouldn’t sound too out of place in Four Walls or The Seasons, actually.

Music for ...
There exist parts for voice, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, horn, trombone, percussion, piano, violin, viola and cello, with multiple parts for some instruments, seventeen total.  They may be performed in any combination with the number of performers finishing the title.  The parts consist of time-bracketed sections with single held tones and sequences.  The piano is played by bowing (or at least one of the piano parts is).

This version is Music for Eight off the disc of the same title.  It features flute, clarinet, trumpet, two pianos (one bowed and one evidently not), two percussionists and one voice.  The music sounds much like a lot of the early number pieces, and bizarrely, I swear the clarinet is playing parts from Sonata for Clarinet, especially at the beginning.  Although there’s a wide variety of ways this work can be performed, I think they will all end up sounding rather similar.  I do miss not having any strings, but I expect they would sound a lot like the strings in the Freeman Etudes.  Cage does not specify or the instruments to be played as if brushed into existence, so the experience is (as is also true with early number pieces) maybe a little more like the chance-determined piano and orchestral works, but much less dense.  The tones are held, but not to any of the extremes as in later number pieces, and most of the sound events are brief; the keyboard-played piano especially.  The voice is not prominent and sounds like a cat at times.  

This is a popular work to perform since essentially any ensemble can do a version, but I think of it as less interesting than what Cage did with the some of the same ideas later on.

Jazz Study
Cage may or may not have written this.  I don’t think the jazz elements are surprising in Cage’s work though: I read Cage didn’t like jazz, but then I listen to all his pieces and find jazzy themes appearing throughout his work from the 40’s!  Consequently I think this is a legitimate Cage piece, probably written in the early 1940’s.  It’s certainly jazzy, featuring several jumpy, frenzied sections introduced by a quieter, lower insistent theme. It’s pretty fun, and you could dance to it, probably, but not exactly in the same way you can dance to the pieces with actual choreography ;-).  

Totem Ancestor
This is easily my favorite work of all the prepared piano pieces.  It was composed in 1942 for a dance.  The preparations include a rattling nut.  

The first part is urgent and repetitive, almost siren like; it soon breaks into a fast-paced and exciting group of rhythms that grow in intensity.  I think one of the major reasons I like it so much is the particular preparations that give the piano a metallic feel; the powerful attacks at the end of each rhythmic section are very exciting too.  I was introduced to Cage by 4’33 and then by the Naxos disc containing this recording, and I listened to it over and over and over again.  

Two Pieces for Piano 1935
This is the original (maybe?) version of a work that was revised in 1974.  It’s serial music, and I don’t really know what the 1978 revisions consisted of.  I’ll compare the two side by side here and see if I note any particular differences...

The slow movement does not advertise itself falsely, and is slow and straightforward.  I’m not sure about the differences here—one version is certainly played faster than the other, but that’s probably just the performer’s choice of tempo.  I feel like the revision might have some rhythms not present in the original...longtime readers might recall how I said it didn’t “sound” serial because so many notes were repeated in the rhythmic sections.  Perhaps this is the revision?  The faster part seems a little more melodic, and I really don’t notice any changes between the original and the revision.  It goes by a bit too quick for me to notice anything, though.  

The remaining yet-to-be-recorded John Cage works to be released by OgreOgress (One9/Two3 [sho version], Three, Postcard from Heaven, Twenty-Eight) will take a bit of time to all be released ... perhaps a few years. A few other projects need to be completed before returning to Cage.
Well, I guess I am glad I didn't say "forthcoming soon." But then, "soon" is relative--I'm sure they will be released sooner than that German ASLSP performance is finished...
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