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CAGE: 100 celebrates the composer John Cage on the 100th anniversary of his birth (this exhibit ran Fall 2012).


Although Cage earned considerable notoriety from his compositions for prepared piano, and for later works involving indeterminacy and chance, his earlier piano works (written before 1948) explore a variety of different innovations. Examples from this period include the Two Pieces and the recently-discovered Chess Pieces. Deceptively simple in their appearance on the printed page, each of these compositions is, in the words of Laura Kuhn, “a meditation upon the piano, and upon the delightful complications inherent in even the simplest of themes. Taken together, they form a landscape of Cage’s mind as applied to composing for this most imposing of instruments, with all of the contours and shadows, secret passages, and vistas that we have come to associate with his work in any medium.”

It was not long before Cage began expanding the conventional boundaries of the piano as an instrument—through its resonating potential and through the timbral possibilities of the piano’s interior. Yet on occasion he would return to simpler, Satie-esque conceptions involving single-note textures sustained by a long-held pedal, as in his 1948 pieces Dream and In a Landscape.