> John Cage - Complete Piano Music, Vol. 3 [CC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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John CAGE (1912-92)
Complete Piano Music, Volume 3: Music of Changes.

Steffen Schleiermacher (piano).
Recorded on Fürstliche Reitbahn Arolsen on October 24th-27th, 1997.
Dabringhaus und Grimm Scene MDG613 0785-2 [DDD] [54’40]


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The four parts of Cage’s Music of Changes (1951) initiated a period in Cage’s output during which chance played a major factor in the compositional process. Cage takes sixty-four hexagrams from the I Ching as a generational force for the musical parameters of pitch, duration, interval/aggregate and volume to generate four ‘Books’.

Music of Changes was the first work Cage wrote for the pianist David Tudor. At the time Cage was in regular contact with Pierre Boulez, and it is therefore possible Cage wanted to write his own major piano work to complement the works being produced by the serialists (Tudor had only recently given the American premiere of Boulez’ Second Piano Sonata).

The value of Schleiermacher’s Cage series is enormous. For Music of Changes, in the interests of clarity, he has decided to reduce Cage’s tempo markings by ‘a few degrees’, especially in Books I and II. As he puts it, ‘This makes the piece longer but ... more transparent and perhaps more interesting to listen to in detail’. Transparency and clarity do indeed seem to be the watch-words of Schleiermacher’s playing, along with positively quicksilver responses.

The First Part is the shortest (at 5’30) and has a playful, capricious character. In contrast, the Second Part is 24’46 long and so has an opportunity to ‘stretch’ time: silences are, as so often with Cage, integral to the musical argument. The longer the piece is, the more opportunity there is to really enter in to the expanded consciousness this music demands from the listener. The sparing inclusion of the sound of plucked strings in the Second Part makes their arrival particularly arresting musical events: there is a judicious use of ‘exteraneous’ noises in this interpretation.

The Third and Fourth Parts each last 11-12 minutes. As with the music of Morton Feldman, when one has attuned to the listening demands of this music and played the disc through, it seems the most natural thing in the world to go back to the beginning and start again. As Schleiermacher himself says in his introduction, ‘the work continues to require a lot of nerve from the hearer and instrumentalist and to offer them adventure’. It is certain that these demands Cage makes on nerves and concentration yield many rewards.

Colin Clarke

 

 


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