American Composers: John Cage's Music Of Change

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John Cage was an American composer that experimented with the very nature of sound and

developed new ways of notating music. Cage’s ideas on composition influenced many artists

such as painters, musicians, and chorographers. Cage questioned the musical preconceptions that

was left from the 19th century. Arnold Schoenberg, a teacher of John Cage, called Cage “not a

composer, but an inventor of genius” (Hicks, 1990). Many musicians, and to much of the

public, thought Cage’s compositions were baffling and outrageous and could not qualify as


Cage believed that everything that we do is music. He thought that art should imitate nature

and he tried to make compositions based on organic growth. Cage used the ugliness and chaos,
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Cage’s work, Music of Changes, relies

heavily on the lessons that he learned from the I-Ching.

In the early 1950s, Cage made departures from musical traditions, which even included his

own. While Cage was an instructor at Black Mountain College, we composed two of his most

famous works, Imaginary Landscape No. 4 and 4’33”. Imaginary Landscape No. 4 used 24 men

turning dials on 12 radios. 4’33” is an entire piece that has a pianist sitting in front of a piano

and marking the beginning and end of each movement. Also while at Black Mountain College,

Cage created pieces that involved dance, poetry, live music, films, and an art exhibit all at the

same time.Cage’s piece, Theater Piece No. 1, in which Cage had the audience seated in four

triangular sections while he stood on a ladder in the center and artists, musicians, and dancers

moved freely around is an example of his departures from traditions.

In the late 1950s, Cage wanted to involve the performer in the creations of his music. Cage

accomplished this by coming up with a kit consisting of plastic sheets with predetermined codes

in which the player would arrive at their part by superimposing the sheets. Many musicians
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Cage continued to blend electronic noise with his works throughout the 1970s. Cage

used more sophisticated computers to shape his works, the most well-known of which is

Europeras 1 & 2. Europeras 1 & 2 takes parts of existing operas and puts them together and

weaves the together by using a computer program to produce one piece. Although, Cage was a

prolific musician and composer, he wrote many works, such as Silence, A Year from Monday,

and M which were designed as performance pieces.

Cage was a recipient of honors and awards throughout his life, both in the United States and

abroad. Cage’s musical scores were put on exhibit at many galleries and museums throughout the

United States. In 1978 Cage was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and

one of the few artists elected into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Cage also

received the New York Mayor’s Honor Award of the Arts and Sciences in 1981. In 1982, Cage

was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government, which is its

highest cultural award. Cage was also recognized in Japan, when in 1989 he traveled there to

accept the Kyoto Prize. Cage’s only marriage ended in divorce in 1945 and he lived the rest

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