John Cage

Biography

Born: September 5, 1912; Los Angeles, CA   Died: August 12, 1992; New York, NY  
Even after his death, John Cage remains a controversial figure. Famously challenging the very notion of what music is, Cage remained on the leading edge of both playful and profound experimentalism for the greater part of his career, collaborating with and influencing generations of composers, writers, dancers, and visual artists. One of his best-known and most sonically intriguing innovations, the prepared piano, had become an almost commonplace Read more compositional resource by the end of the twentieth century. Years before the invention of the synthesizer, he was in the forefront in the exploration of electric and electronic sound sources, using oscillators, turntables, and amplification to musical ends. He pioneered the use of graphic notation and, in employing chance operations to determine musical parameters, was the leading light for one cadre of the avant-garde that included Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Earle Brown, and Pauline Oliveros. Cage produced works of "performance art" years before the term was coined, and his 4'33'' (1952) -- in which the performers are instructed to remain silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds -- takes a place among the most notorious touchstones of twentieth century music.

Cage was born on September 5, 1912, in Los Angeles, California. After boyhood piano lessons, he pursued both formal and informal musical studies that ranged from classes at Pomona College to cultural excursions throughout Europe to lessons with American composer Adolph Weiss.

Cage's true mentors were Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg, two very different musical personalities. Cage's music from the 1930s and 1940s demonstrates the direct influence of both Schoenberg and Cowell, and is marked especially by the use of percussion instruments and the prepared piano. While Cage's early music was based, like Schoenberg's, primarily on the organization of pitch, rhythmic structures became increasingly important, no doubt due in part to the composer's associations with the world of dance. He had worked as a dance accompanist at UCLA and then took a similar position at the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, in 1938. Here he met, and developed a working relationship, with choreographer/dancer Merce Cunningham.

The most important aesthetic development in Cage's career came as a result of his studies of Eastern philosophies, especially Zen Buddhism, in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. The result was music derived, at least in part, from quasi-random decisions determined by the I Ching (the Chinese Book of Changes). Instead of imposing an inviolable order upon the conventional elements of Western music, Cage endeavored "to make a musical composition[,] the continuity of which is free of individual taste and memory (psychology) and also of the literature and 'traditions' of the art." The embodiment of this philosophy is well illustrated by Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951). The score calls for the prescribed manipulations of knobs on twelve radios; the aural result is dependent on what happens to be on the airwaves at the instant of performance. In "composing" works in such a fashion, Cage ensured that each realization of the score would provide a unique sonic experience.

Cage's ecumenically experimental spirit continued to thrive into the 1960s and beyond. The "environmental extravaganza" Musicircus (1967) incorporates everything from rock music to pantomime to film; HPSCHD (1967) mixes computer technology with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin. Child of Tree (1975) calls for the amplification of a potted plant, Inlets (1977) for four conch shells and the sound of fire, and Il Treno (1978) for "prepared trains."

Though his career unfolded largely without the confines of the musical establishment in America, Cage became something of a beloved elder statesman of music in his later years, honored with formal distinctions and concerts marking his major birthdays. He died in New York City on August 12, 1992. Read less

Work: Dream

Browse 1-15 of 15 Available Recordings
  • 1.
    Cowell & Cage: Amiable Conversation / Liebner
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 7326 Release Date: 07/29/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage,  Henry Cowell
    Performer:  Sabine Liebner
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  • 2.
    Label: Amadeus Arte   Catalog: 12001 Release Date: 12/01/2015   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Spoken Word,  John Cage
    Performer:  Floraleda Sacchi
    CD: $14.99
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  • 3.
    Insomnia / Kai Schumacher
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 93334 Release Date: 06/09/2015   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Gershwin,  John Cage,  George Crumb,  Brian Belet  ... 
    Performer:  Kai Schumacher
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  • 4.
    The Transcendentalist / Ivan Ilic
    Label: Heresy Records   Catalog: 15 Release Date: 05/27/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Alexander Scriabin,  John Cage,  Scott Wollschleger,  Morton Feldman
    Performer:  Ivan Ilic
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  • 5.
    Cage: As It Is
    Label: Ecm   Catalog: 001719802 Release Date: 09/25/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage
    Performer:  Natalia Pschenitschnikova,  Alexei Lubimov,  Alexei Lubimov
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  • 6.
    She Herself Alone - The Art Of The Toy Piano 2 / Margaret Leng Tan
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 221 Release Date: 10/12/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ross Bolleter,  John Cage,  George Crumb,  Toby Twining  ... 
    Performer:  Margaret Leng Tan
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  • 7.
    She Herself Alone: The Art Of The Toy Piano, Vol. 2
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 221 Release Date: 06/01/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage,  Erik Griswold,  Toby Twining,  Ross Bolleter  ... 
    Performer:  Margaret Leng Tan
    CD: $17.99
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  • 8.
    John Cage: Dream
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 6713 Release Date: 06/09/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage
    Performer:  Stefano Scodanibbio,  Fabrizio Ottaviucci,  Aldo Campagnari,  Giorgio Casati  ... 
    Conductor:  Stefano Scodanibbio
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nextime Ensemble
    CD: $18.99
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  • 9.
    In A Silent Way - John Cage, Morton Feldman / Barbetti, Spinosa
    Label: Stradivarius   Catalog: 33819 Release Date: 04/14/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage,  Morton Feldman
    Performer:  Rossella Spinosa,  Maurizio Barbetti
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  • 10.
    Insomnimania
    Label: Koch International Classics   Catalog: 7734 Release Date: 06/24/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Bolcom,  Robert Helps,  Raymond Scott,  Eric Richards  ... 
    Performer:  Jenny Lin
    CD: $17.99
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  • 11.
    John Cage: Music For Keyboard;  Morton Feldman:  Early Years
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80664 Release Date: 06/05/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Morton Feldman,  John Cage
    Performer:  Matthew Raimondi,  David Tudor,  Jeanne Kirstein,  Russell Sherman  ... 
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  • 12.
    From the New World - Cage, Cowell, Druckman, Feldman, Ives
    Label: Stradivarius   Catalog: 33737 Release Date: 06/13/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roger Sessions,  Jacob Druckman,  John Cage,  Henry Cowell  ... 
    Performer:  Lucas Fels,  Stefano Scodanibbio,  Francesco Dillon,  Peter Söderberg  ... 
    Conductor:  Fernando Sileoni
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Pollenza Banda Comunale Verdi
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  • 13.
    Cage: In A Landscape / Stephen Drury
    Label: Catalyst   Catalog: 61980 Release Date: 01/10/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage
    Performer:  Stephen Drury
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  • 14.
    Just West Coast - Microtonal Music / Schneider, Shulman
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9041 Release Date: 11/01/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Lou Harrison,  John Cage,  Harry Partch,  La Monte Young
    Performer:  Amy Shulman,  John Schneider,  Gene Sterling
    On sale! $19.98
    CD: $16.99
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  • 15.
    Cage: Works for Piano & Prepared Piano, Vol. 2 / Pierce
    Label: Wergo   Catalog: 60157 Release Date: 01/27/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  John Cage
    Performer:  Joshua Pierce,  Dorothy Jonas,  Frank Almond
    CD: $18.99
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