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Cage: Early Piano Music / Herbert Henck


Release Date: 07/26/2005 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 000488302   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 9 Mins. 

Imported from : European Union   
CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

When one mentions Cage’s early piano music, the first association is usually to the prepared-piano works, and in particular the sonatas and interludes. But there is a wealth of work for traditional keyboard as well, and it constitutes some of his most attractive and surprising pieces. They are surprising for those expecting the Cage of indeterminacy, chance operations, and taboo-violation, in that they’re quite simply, so often lovely, dramatic, lyrical, and expressive, all in ways entirely recognizable to those who value more traditional modes of composition.

This stunning collection runs the gamut of the critical early phase of Cage’s mature work, starting in 1935 with his serial pieces influenced by Schoenberg and ending
Read more just before the sonatas and interludes. Metamorphosis (1938), Quest (1935), and the first Two Pieces for Piano are all 12-tone, written while Cage was attending Schoenberg’s classes in Los Angeles (how closely Cage actually studied with Schoenberg is now a matter of some debate, but it’s clear he at least took a year-long class and engaged in classroom compositional exercises). Cage’s serial works are quite wonderful, especially Metamorphosis. It is a five-movement suite, and two things come through quickly: (1) Cage’s supple rhythmic sense, which creates momentum and contrast within the rather homogeneous chromatic harmonic language, and (2) an ability to define a character for a movement which is distinct and unyielding. This sense of things revolving around a still conceptual core is very much in the spirit of Cage’s later music; there can be a lot of activity, but not much changes. There can also be musics of different speeds and characters revolving around one another, as in the slow movement of Metamorphosis; the effect is a little like listening to a range of animal sounds in a forest—birds, insects, frogs.

In a Landscape (1948) is one of Cage’s purest essays in beauty, a single line played with the pedal down throughout. It’s a gentle chant where the slightest twists and turns project meaning. Ophelia (1946) is notable for the dramatic contrasts it contains, again not part of the usual Cage stereotype. (But then these works were created for dance, so the extra-musical mandates shape their profile. Again, it’s revealing to see that Cage was quite willing to shape his own vision in response to sympathetic collaborators.)

The great find of the set is The Seasons (1947). I have known the piece for a very long time in its orchestral form—Lou Harrison and Virgil Thomson helped with the orchestration. I have enjoyed playing it for years for unsuspecting friends, asking them to identify the composer. They’re always shocked when it turns out to be Cage. By this point, Cage’s music had become more modal in its harmony, and he had devised a system of composition via “gamut,” i.e., a matrix of predefined materials were moved through in a strict but intuitive manner. While a little like serialism, the sounds were often consonant, and differentiated as much by register and color as anything else. As a consequence, the music is “spacey” and rigorous at once, and as sensuous as one likes. The Seasons, along with the String Quartet and the Six Melodies for violin and piano, represent the pinnacle of this technique and period of Cage’s output. It’s unclear if this is the recorded premiere of the piano version, but at least I don’t know of any other. The later Two Pieces are brief essays written with the same material as The Seasons, though they have greater pauses, suggesting Cage’s growing interest in silence as musical material.

Herbert Henck plays this music with near-perfect control and understanding. It’s not always virtuosic, but it can be at times genuinely challenging, and it’s very exposed, like all great classicist art. Every now and then, he brings a greater touch of expressionism to the interpretation than I might expect, but it’s always so well balanced with the pure, deadpan qualities of Cage’s art that I tend to believe them when they occur. The sound is similarly clear but not overdone. This is a beautiful collection of important music, which will satisfy both the Cage expert and delight anyone interested in exploring his work but afraid to do so previously.

Robert Carl, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Seasons by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1947; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 16 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Notes: Version: 1947 
2.
Metamorphosis for Prepared Piano by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 16 Minutes 15 Secs. 
3.
In a Landscape by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 12 Minutes 48 Secs. 
4.
Ophelia by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 6 Minutes 46 Secs. 
5.
Quest: 2nd movement by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 1 Minutes 49 Secs. 
6.
Pieces (2) for Piano [ca 1935, rev 1974] by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935/1974; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 3 Minutes 40 Secs. 
7.
Pieces (2) for Piano [1946] by John Cage
Performer:  Herbert Henck (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; USA 
Date of Recording: 12/2002 
Venue:  Festeburgkirche, Frankfurt, Germany 
Length: 11 Minutes 21 Secs. 

Sound Samples

The Seasons: 1. Prelude I
The Seasons: 2. Winter
The Seasons: 3. Prelude II
The Seasons: 4. Spring
The Seasons: 5. Prelude III
The Seasons: 6. Summer
The Seasons: 7. Prelude IV
The Seasons: 8. Fall
The Seasons: 9. Finale (Prelude I)
Metamorphosis: I
Metamorphosis: II
Metamorphosis: III
Metamorphosis: IV
Metamorphosis: V
In A Landscape
Ophelia
Two Pieces For Piano (1935): I Slowly
Two Pieces For Piano (1935): II Quite fast
Quest
Two Pieces For Piano (1946): I
Two Pieces For Piano (1946): II

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