Thursday, November 29, 2007

John Cage's 1952 composition 4'33"

4′33″ (Four minutes, thirty-three seconds) is a musical composition by the late, American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992). It was composed in 1952 for any instrument (or combination of instruments), and the score instructs the performer to not play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece. Although commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence", the piece actually consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed. Over the years, 4′33″ became Cage's most famous and most controversial composition.

Conceived in 1948, while Cage was working on Sonatas and Interludes, 4′33″ was for Cage the epitome of aleatoric music and of his idea that any sounds constitute, or may constitute, music. It was also a reflection of the influence of Zen Buddhism, which Cage studied since the late 1940s. In a 1982 interview, and on numerous other occasions, Cage has stated that 4′33″ is, in his opinion, his most important work.

NPR (National Public Radio) has this composition listed as one of "The 100 Most Important American Musical Works of the 20th Century."

Cage chose the length of the famous premiere performance by chance methods using I Ching models, the results of which happen to coincide with average lengths of pieces of so-called 'canned' music, where the applicability of those models is valid too, because both fields are dealing in some or the other way with the attentiveness and concentration abilities of humans.

Oddly enough, this composition has been recorded (officially) by the likes of Frank Zappa and more.

Here you will see the BBC Symphony Orchestra performs John Cage's 4'33", at London's Barbican Centre, on January 16th, 2004. It is performed in three movements. Conducted by Lawrence Foster.

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