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John Cage: Melodies & Harmonies

Cage / Gahl / Lang
Release Date: 07/13/2010 
Label:  Col Legno   Catalog #: 20292   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  John Cage
Performer:  Annelie GahlKlaus Lang
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CAGE Melodies & Harmonies Annelie Gahl (vn); Klaus Lang (Fender Rhodes) COL LEGNO 20292 (55:58)

Melody 1. Harmony 18. Harmony 42. Melody 2. Melody 3. Harmony 26. Harmony 21. Harmony 19. Harmony 5. Harmony 11. Melody 4. Harmony 14. Melody 5. Melody 6. Harmony 15. Harmony 28. Harmony 35. Harmony 38. Harmony 44

CAGE Etudes Borealis . Harmonies. Read more class="ARIAL12bi">_10’40.3” Friedrich Gauwerky (vc); Mark Knoop (pn) WERGO 6718-2 (59:48)

Harmony 27. Etudes Borealis for piano. Harmony 22. _10’40.3” from 26’1.1499” . Harmony 24. Etudes Borealis for cello and piano. Harmony 13

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since John Cage passed on. I know, tempus fugit and all that, but I wonder if we hear his music today with different ears, if we are able to simply listen, respond to what we hear, and not feel forced to take sides in some larger aesthetic or methodological debate. (Not that it isn’t fun to do so once in a while, as long as we’re not being dogmatic about it.) While alive, depending upon with whom you spoke, he was considered a charlatan, a philosopher, an irritant, or a genius, but he remains an indelible figure in the history of 20th-century music and art, and, like it or not, his once-radical ideas continue to influence artists in this ever-more-wayward century. There are generations of musicians who weren’t alive during Cage’s most controversial years and some, I suspect, perform his music today simply because they enjoy how it sounds, or (in some cases) the challenge of it, or both.

These two new releases certainly seem to fall into this category. The program fashioned by Annelie Gahl and Klaus Lang consists of the Six Melodies (1950) for violin and unspecified keyboard instrument (Lang’s choice, the Fender Rhodes, is an electric piano with distinctive tonal qualities and attack) and the 13 Harmonies for violin and keyboard, which Roger Zahab selected and adapted in 1985 from the 44 Harmonies Cage derived from Revolutionary War-era songs, hymns, and spirituals for use in his Apartment House 1776 (1976). Despite the 26-year gap between them, and the differing source material, the two scores blend together nicely, sharing a primarily consonant harmonic vocabulary and soft-spoken lyricism that are interrupted periodically by gentle dissonances and rifts or unpredictable shifts in the melodic flow. Every once in a while a jaunty rhythm, sounding something like a medieval dance tune, enlivens the proceedings, but Gahl and Lang emphasize the music’s soothing qualities by taking the pieces at a somewhat slower pace than did violinist Zahab and pianist/harpsichordist/organist Eric Moe in their 1995 Koch Classics recording of the 13 Harmonies. The chiming, artificial sound of the Fender Rhodes is a surprising choice here, but it’s not really distracting, at least to my ears. On its own terms, this is a quite fetching, perfectly realized program of Cage in his easily accessible mode.

The cello and piano duo of Friedrich Gauwerky and Mark Knoop is of somewhat sterner stuff. They too have dipped into the 44 Harmonies, although the four they have adapted are not among Zahab’s 13, thus providing four additional pieces for the duo repertoire. But Gauwerky and Knoop are motivated by the challenging aspects of Cage’s music. Etudes Borealis , which has parts for piano and cello which may be performed separately or simultaneously, was composed through the use of charts of stars in the northern hemisphere, and as with his other books of etudes, Cage intentionally made the music as technically difficult as he could, to symbolize our ability to succeed in seemingly impossible musical and non-musical situations. To that end, the version for piano takes the pianists out of their comfort zone and turns them into percussionists, rapping, plucking, and scraping on the instrument’s wood, strings, and keys. When combined with the “unrelated” cello part, the complexity of activity fills the listening environment with sounds that infer a more conventional musical interaction. Likewise, in the cellist’s version of 10’40.3” (the title refers to the duration of the music and is an excerpt from the longer 26’1.1499”; though why Gauwerky didn’t perform the entire piece is not explained), an unconventional notation coincides with the unorthodox sound spectrum of disconnected scrapes, glisses, taps, pops, and microtonal intervals, which requires a change in our listening habits—that is, to focus attention in and not on the music, suggesting participation in the listening experience that is less passive than usual.

Both discs, in their own way, serve to remind us that Cage’s subversive intentions were sometimes mild and sometimes wild. It’s good to have musicians as skillful as these committed to each approach.

FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

Thirteen Harmonies by John Cage
Performer:  Annelie Gahl (Violin), Klaus Lang (Keyboards)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; USA 
Venue:  Amann Studios, Vienna 
Melodies (6) for Violin and Keyboard by John Cage
Performer:  Klaus Lang (Keyboards), Annelie Gahl (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950; USA 
Venue:  Amann Studios, Vienna 

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