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

Where R=Ryonji Drawings

Cage began the series of pencil drawings, Where R=Ryonji, in 1982 and continued to create them until his death in 1992. Each of the drawings was  produced on Japanese paper by tracing stones from the rock garden, Ryonji, in Kyoto, Japan, utilizing chance operations and numbers derived from the I Ching.

These drawings are from the Grete Sultan Collection in IPAM and are believed to have been gifts from Cage to the pianist.

Scenario for M. F.

The long artistic association between Cage and Morton Feldman (1926 – 1987) began in the early 1950s, with Cage serving as a sort of mentor during the relationship’s earliest years. In honor of Feldman’s 60th birthday in 1986, Cage created this mesostic at the request of Tom DeLio for inclusion in his book, The Music of Morton Feldman. In the book’s introduction, DeLio states the following about this particular work:

“The mesositic is a poetic structure in which a specific word or set of words (in this case the name of Morton Feldman) is spelled vertically down the middle of the poem. In Scenario for M.F., the successive letters in the composer’s name are capitalized and placed on successive lines of text. In addition, a given letter in the name never appears between itself and the preceding letter of the name. This beautiful piece not only constitutes a marvelous hommage but also affords a glimpse at the recent work of a composer who had a tremendous influence on Feldman’s attitudes toward composition.”

Earlier in 1982, Feldman had composed For John Cage (violin and piano) for a concert given in honor of Cage’s seventieth birthday. One can easily interpret Scenario for M.F. as Cage returning the favor.

Tom DeLio is Professor of Theory and Composition at the UMD School of Music, and is a noted scholar on both Cage and Feldman. His papers are located in Special Collections in Performing Arts.

Cage and the American Composers Alliance

The American Composers Alliance (ACA) was founded in 1937 by several notable composers of the day, Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson among them. ACA’s initial ambitions were to “professionalize” the work of composers, while seeking out a means to “generate revenue from their compositions.”

Cage’s relationship with ACA began in 1945 when he accepted a nomination for the Board of Governors. However, as seen in the displayed application, Cage did not pursue active membership with ACA until 1949. This was a prolific time in his career when recognition came in many forms including commissions, notable performances, speaking engagements, and major grants. For most emerging composers, ACA served as a publishing option  when overtures where not forthcoming from the more renowned publishing firms. (Cage had previously published a few works with New Music Edition.)

Though Cage was required to submit a works list as part of his application, another works list exists in his ACA file, which appears to function as an update to his records. It is interesting to note his hand-written inclusion of 4’33”, indicating that this list was likely created between 1950 and 1952. Also there is the relatively unknown Music for Xenia (for piano), cited in other sources as an early work from 1934.

By 1952, Cage agreed to the terms of the ACA Composers Facsimile Edition, but then terminated his membership the following year (see displayed documents). It is unclear why he left ACA, especially as Cage would not establish his long-term publishing relationship with C.F. Peters until 1961.

ACA is still a thriving music organization and their official archives and score collection are housed in Special Collections in Performing Arts.

Sultan and Etudes Australes

Grete Sultan (1906-2005), a German-born pianist and advocate of contemporary music, met Cage in 1945. The two developed into good friends, and Sultan became known for her interpretations of Cage’s compositions. Cage composed the 32-piece Etudes Australes for Grete Sultan during 1974-1975 after seeing her work on Music of Changes and “feeling that hitting the structure of the piano was not fitting in her case.” 1 He placed transparent grids over pages of Atlas Australis – a book of star maps published in Czechoslovakia – to plot out each piece. 2 Cage then used rules of chance from the I Ching – an ancient Chinese divination system also known as the “Book of Changes” – to determine whether notes would be single tones or aggregates.3 Each resulting note represents a star in the sky. These notes were then transferred to music staves assigned to the pianist’s right and left hands. After her premiere of this music Cage stated,“Without Grete Sultan in mind, her quiet, indomitable strength, her devotion to the piano, her discipline, her determination to transform music from paper into life, I would not have embarked on this project.” 4 Sultan premiered the first three etudes at Alice Tully Hall on January 25th, 1975. The Grete Sultan Collection is housed in IPAM.

  1. John Cage as quoted on the program for Sultan's first performance of the Etudes Australes, 25 Jan. 1975, Alice Tully Hall.
  2. Cage, John. “Etudes Australes I, II, and III.” John Cage: Writer. Ed. Richard Kostelanetz. New York: Limelight Editions, 1993. [pg. 99-101]
  3. Johnson, Tom. “John Cage: Music from Stars.” the village VOICE 3 Feb. 1975: 105-106.
  4. Cage, John. “Etudes Australes I, II, and III.”

Preparations for The Perilous Night

Sultan performed several of Cage’s pieces, including one of his first works for prepared piano, The Perilous Night. Cage wrote detailed notes about how performers should prepare their pianos, taking care to specify which kinds of pianos the measurements applied to. He included precise locations for each attached item, sometimes down to 1/16th of an inch. Sultan kept a box of notes and materials ready for each performance, including items such as bolts, bamboo slits, and weather stripping. She also carried tweezers, a measuring tape, and other tools in order to attach the items to piano strings.

Cage on Sultan

“I can assure you that [Grete] does not play by means of chance operations. She has lived with these pieces since they were written in ’74-’75. She has been with them longer than I. She knows them so to speak through and through. Their roots are in her, and what you will hear is the life she gives them.” – John Cage, “Remarks at a meeting of the Society for the Arts Religion and Contemporary Culture,” New York, 14 Nov 1979