Out of the Cage


Many years ago I attended a recital at the University of Illinois concert hall. John Cage was composer-in-residence that year; and, to the dismay of many, he had chosen to present his 4 minutes and 33 seconds (I think that's the title, or a close approximation). It consisted of a pianist sitting on the bench in front of the piano and playing not a note. At the end of the allotted time, the pianist (David Tudor, if memory serves) simply left the stage. Those who know Cage's work will recognize it as part of his theory of silence (as opposed to mere rests) in music.


    At the U of I, the concert hall was located in the music building,which also, on the upper floors, held the practice rooms. The pianist came out on stage to polite applause, seated himself at the piano, and proceeded to wait out his 4 minutes 33 seconds. However, somewhere on the upper floors, an aspiring pianist was practicing a passage from a Beethoven sonata -- the *same* passage -- over and Over and OVER.


    But the unseen pianist found the passage no easy task. And so the audience,seated in the solemn silence of the concert hall, heard a distant.... 


A-B-C-D-E-F# [mistake] "Dammit!" 

A-B-C-D-E-F# [splat] "Son-of-a-biiiitch!" 



    I omit the other statements out of my respect for your sensibilities.But you get the idea. It was a stunning performance. The audience applauded wildly, and Cage himself professed to be pleased. And indeed, I remember this recital long after other, more ordinary displays of virtuosity have faded from memory.


-- Arthur Chandler