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John Cage

The U.S. composer and artist John Milton Cage (1912 - 1992) created more than 250 compositions in addition to numerous drawings, graphics and objects as well as literary works. Cage is one of the world's most influential composers of the 20th century.

John Cage studied literature at Pomona College in Claremont in 1928 and 1929, where his first poems were written, and architecture at the Bibliothèque Mazarin in Paris in 1930 with Ernő Goldfinger and piano with Lazare Lévy. In 1932, Cage first began studying composition with Richard Buhlig. Then, beginning in 1934, Cage studied harmony with Adolph Weiss, Arnold Schoenberg's first U.S. student, and took courses in modern harmony at the New School of Social Research in New York. In 1935 he returned to Los Angeles and took private lessons with Arnold Schoenberg until 1937.

In 1941, at the invitation of László Moholy-Nagy, he taught a class in experimental music at the Chicago School of Design. In 1948 and again in the summer of 1952, John Cage held a teaching position at Black Mountain College and that year staged Untitled Event, the first ever happening. In 1954 he undertook an extensive concert tour of Europe with David Tudor and met Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne. In 1956, Cage taught at New York's New School for Social Research. His students included the later Fluxus artists George Brecht, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Jackson MacLow, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Yoko Ono, and Allan Kaprow, and from 1960 George Maciunas and La Monte Young. During a European tour with David Tudor in 1958, John Cage taught at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, where he also met Nam June Paik.

In 1940 John Cage composed Bacchanale, his first composition for the prepared piano he invented, on whose strings and hammers he mounted a wide variety of small parts that give the piano a special sound. Based on the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, John Cage realized Music of Changes in 1951, his first piece based entirely on the random process. In 1965 John Cage began his text project Diary: How to improve the world (You will only make matters worse), whose structure was determined by chance operations. In 1992, as one of Cage's last works, he made his only film One, a 90-minute black-and-white film about light.

Among John Cage's best-known works are Sonates Et Interludes Pour Piano Préparé, composed between 1946 and 1948; Imaginary Landscapes, composed between 1939 and 1952; the piece 4′33″, premiered in 1952 at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York; and the series of so-called number pieces, composed between 1986 and 1992. In total, these are 52 compositions for one to 108 musicians.


Works for listening