Composer John Cage (1912-1992) is one of the classical world’s best known experimental composers and theorists. Electronic Music for Piano is one of Cage’s least known pieces because the score is among his most enigmatic and consequently, there are few commercial recordings of it. Written in Stockholm in 1964 on hotel letterhead, the notes ask the performer to select parts from his Music for Piano 4-84 and use electronic equipment. Everything else is up to the artist’s discretion. Enter Tania Chen, the U.K.-based pianist who has become a revered and leading interpreter of Cage’s work. Recording in both London and Berkeley, CA, Chen joined forces with Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), David Toop (former member of The Flying Lizards, and recording artist on Brian Eno’s Obscure label) and Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly, who has also worked with Negativland) to create a new version of this piece helmed by Gino Robair composer, musician, and scholar.
During the last few years of his life, John Cage wrote many pieces in the same general vein as Five3. They are often referred to as "the number pieces." This references the titles of the pieces, which are all simply the number of the performers. Superscripts are added as necessary to distinguish the individual pieces (this is the third quintet, for example).
These works are also called "the time-bracket pieces," a reference to the notation of the pieces.
The Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra is one of Cage's most delicate works. The orchestra is treated as a group of soloists throughout, and for the most part operate with a small set of pitches and timbres, but is extended by a large array of percussion instruments played by four players. The piano, played by the superb contemporary piano interpreter Stephen Drury, weaves between the orchestral sonorities, rarely taking extended solos, as the piece becomes progressively more sparse until it tapers into silence at the end.
The 35th volume in Mode's Complete John Cage Edition is also the second release in Ulrich Krieger's series of interpretations for solo saxophone and saxophones with other instruments. Ensemble pieces of comparatively large dimensions were gathered on A Cage of Saxophones: Vol. 1, so this follow-up disc presents pieces for smaller combinations and solos, though with no less originality or charm.
John Cage: Early Piano Music comes from Herbert Henck, an experienced hand with the work of Cage, having previously recorded Music for Piano, Music of Changes, and Sonatas and Interludes in addition to a mighty swath of first-tier twentieth-century literature for piano for various labels, most notably Wergo and ECM New Series. These are early works for standard, not prepared, piano, and some of these pieces will be as familiar to dyed-in-the-wool Cageans as "Happy Birthday." This puts the pressure on Henck to excel, and he does so spectacularly well here. The disc includes the two sets entitled Two Pieces for Piano, the piano version of The Seasons, Metamorphosis, In a Landscape, Ophelia, and the fragmentary Quest. The pieces date from 1935 to 1948, the same range covered by pianist Jeanne Kirstein in her pioneering 1967 survey of Cage's piano music for CBS Masterworks.
This collection features works by various luminaries in the international avant-garde performing works by or in memoriam of the iconoclastic composer John Cage. Performances range from David Tudor's electronic explorations to Patrick Moraz's performance of Cage's "Dances for Prepared Piano." The irony will not be lost on fans of Cage's work that a recorded tribute album for a composer who disliked the recorded medium is at best a strange tribute.
John Cage’s innovative work and unorthodox ideas profoundly affected Western music during the latter half of the 20th century, and this second of two volumes (volume 1 can be heard on Naxos 8.559773) concludes Katrin Zenz’s survey of his complete works for flute. The earlier chromatic compositions include an astonishing variety of playing techniques and a bewildering rhythmic complexity, while the elements of chance in the later works result in music that is always undergoing kaleidoscopic processes at once arbitrary and intensely focussed in form and expression.