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The Cambridge Companion to John Cage (2002)

por David Nicholls

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John Cage (1912-1992) was without doubt one of the most important and influential figures in twentieth-century music. Pupil of Schoenberg, Henry Cowell, Marcel Duchamp, and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, among others, he spent much of his career in pursuit of an unusual goal: 'giving up control so that sounds can be sounds', as he put it. 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. Written by a team of experts, this Companion discusses Cage's background, his work, and its performance and reception, providing in sum a fully rounded portrait of a fascinating figure.… (mais)
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On the whole, this is a very strong anthology in the Cambridge Companion series. Divided into three parts (Aesthetic contexts; Sounds,words, images; Interaction and Influence), the book investigates the different facets of Cage's life and career using a wide variety of methodologies. There are surveys of his contributions in a particular area such as Kathan Brown's essay "Visual Art" (Ch. 7) and most notably, David Patterson's "Words and Writings," which, for my money, is one of the best examples of a bibliographic essay I've seen. For the most part, the language and content is accessible, although there are a few instances of "insider's club" name-dropping without description or annotation. For those heavily invested in analysis of Cage's music, it would be a good idea to have The Music of John Cage by James Pritchett close at hand, as it is one of the most often cited sources in the anthology. David Bernstein's "Cage and High Modernism" essay gives a necessarily simplified and succinct explanation of Cage's use of the I Ching, which is useful as many sources simply gloss over it. William Brooks, in his contribution "Music II: from the late 1960s" traces threads from Cage's own descriptions of materials, method, structure, and form (see Cage's "Defense of Satie" (1948), parsing it into a discussion of works with a haiku-based structure, works that use graphic materials, works that use ambient sounds, and those works that alternate sound and silence. Leta Miller's "Cage's Collaborations" provides a nuanced examination of the different ways in which Cage "collaborated" and the questions (and some answers) that arise regarding artistic collaboration as a whole. John Holzaepfel examines one of Cage's most famous collaborations ("Cage and Tudor"), illuminating the mostly symbiotic relationship and how Tudor's involvement shaped both the works and the reception thereof.

Some of the repeated information is cross-referenced and acknowledged, some of it is not. The redundancies are only mildly troubling (in terms of reading experience) should you read it cover to cover. Overall, David Nicholls did a fine job of editing the book and most of the essays seem to have a consciousness of the whole. Helpful too is the "Chronology" on pp. xii - xiii, especially since, as many of the essays note, a chronological discussion is not always the best approach to examining Cage. ( )
  rebcamuse | Dec 4, 2019 |
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John Cage (1912-1992) was without doubt one of the most important and influential figures in twentieth-century music. Pupil of Schoenberg, Henry Cowell, Marcel Duchamp, and Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, among others, he spent much of his career in pursuit of an unusual goal: 'giving up control so that sounds can be sounds', as he put it. 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. Written by a team of experts, this Companion discusses Cage's background, his work, and its performance and reception, providing in sum a fully rounded portrait of a fascinating figure.

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