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CAGE: 100 celebrates the composer John Cage on the 100th anniversary of his birth. This exhibition will run from June 28, 2012 through January 3, 2013 at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Last Updated: Apr 17, 2013 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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It is hard to identify another multidisciplinary creative genius that influenced the course of music in the mid-to-late twentieth century more than John Cage (1912-1992). His influence is still felt today, twenty years after his death.

Cage, however, was not without his own influences, and the inspiration of two notable teachers is evident in his earlier works. Henry Cowell instructed Cage on non-Western, folk, and contemporary music. Soon after, he studied serial composition techniques with Arnold Schoenberg. While a student of Schoenberg, Cage attempted to expand on serialism through his work.

Prior to World War II, Cage produced works that challenged standard notions of what constituted music. He composed for percussion ensemble, and instead of settling for the conventional orchestral battery he incorporated simple blocks of wood or abandoned automobile parts. He composed for piano, but in a search for different sounds Cage – much like Cowell – sent the performer into the body of the instrument to modify (i.e. “prepare”) the hammers and wire, or had pianists play directly on the inner construct itself. He sought out new sounds from electronics, radios, turntables, toys, or any other objects that produced a sound, or could be made to do so.

In the postwar years Cage began to explore Hindu and Zen teachings. These contemplations led Cage to silence, which he applied as a new aesthetic device that would further challenge audiences. During the 1950s, Cage also began to utilize chance and indeterminacy techniques. Combining chance with silence – and his proclivity for sonic innovations – Cage now entered into a highly prolific period, accompanied by awards, fellowships, and grants. Already a compelling figure, Cage now became notorious.

His radical thinking was also expressed in prose whose syntax, content, and form were just as challenging as his music. Although he penned lectures, essays, and poems, he brought to these written forms the same pursuit of new and individual thinking. Also informing Cage’s music and text works was his experience in the visual arts, a life-long interest that he never abandoned.

Cage is not a man who is easy to present in one exhibition. In CAGE: 100, you can begin to explore his life and some of the major areas to which he devoted his creative efforts. With materials selected from the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library collections, you can learn about his innovative artistry, inspirational career, and enduring influence. It is not likely we will see another pioneer of such magnitude as John Cage.


Biographies, Profiles, and Criticism

These books can by found at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Cover Art
Musicage - John M. Cage; Joan Retallack (As told to)
Call Number: ML410.C24 A5 1996
ISBN: 9780819552853
Publication Date: 1996-01-19
The entire range of John Cage's work & thought, explored in three wide-ranging dialogues, which constitute his last unified statement on his art.

Cover Art
The Cambridge Companion to John Cage - David Nicholls (Editor); Jonathan Cross (Contribution by)
Call Number: ML410.C24 C36 2002
ISBN: 9780521789684
Publication Date: 2002-08-01
This book celebrates the richness and diversity of Cage'’s achievements - the development of the prepared piano and of the percussion orchestra, the adoption of chance and of indeterminacy, the employment of electronic resources and of graphic notation, and the questioning of the most fundamental tenets of Western art music. Besides composing around 300 works, he was also a prolific performer, writer, poet, and visual artist.

Cover Art
John Cage - Richard Kostelanetz
Call Number: ML410.C24 J54 1991
ISBN: 9780306804359
Publication Date: 1991-03-21
Cage’s activities as composer, graphic artist, poet, teacher, critic and—not least—writer are explored in this collection of readings by and about this avant-garde pioneer, covering his most innovative period, 1933–1970.

Cover Art
Begin Again - Kenneth Silverman
Call Number: ML410.C24 S64 2010
ISBN: 9781400044375
Publication Date: 2010-10-19
Drawing on interviews with Cage’s contemporaries and friends and on the entire archive of his letters and writings, and including photographs and facsimiles of musical scores, Silverman gives us a revelatory portrait of one of the most important cultural figures of the twentieth century.

Cover Art
John Cage - David Nicholls
Call Number: ML410.C24 N53 2007
ISBN: 9780252032158
Publication Date: 2007-11-26
To enable readers to understand what makes Cage such an extraordinary figure, David Nicholls places his striking body of prose and poetry, over 300 music compositions, and prominent performance career into historical, environmental, intellectual, philosophical, and aesthetic contexts. Nicholls’ intimate study of John Cage’s personal and professional life confirms the legacy of this major figure in twentieth-century American culture.

John Cage: An Autobiographical Statement (1990)

Originally delivered as a commemorative lecture in 1989; published in 1991 in The Southwest Review.  Link via The John Cage Trust.


Interview, 1987

From Zero, "19 Questions," dir. Frank Sheffer and Andrew Culver


Cage Performs "Water Walk"

January, 1960: On the American game show I've Got a Secret.


Interview, 1991

Audio Links

  • "The City Wears a Slouch Hat" (1942)
    Music written for the eponymous radio play by Kenneth Patchen, originally broadcast by WBBM in Chicago.
  • "Party Pieces" (1944-1945)
    Collaborative compositions in the manner of the Surrealist "Exquisite Corpse" parlor game. With Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison and Virgil Thomson.
  • 4'33" (1952)
    Cage's most famous work, a distillation of his theory and meditations on the deceptively dynamic nature of silence.

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