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.
This first volume of John Cage’s complete works for flute spans a fifty year period, from the Three Pieces for Flute Duet of 1935—deft studies in chromatic writing—to the 1984 Ryoanji, which involves the use of pre-recorded flutes and percussion with resultant diverse and intricate textures. Two is the first of Cage’s important ‘number’ series and is edgily ruminative, while Music for Two, written for any combination of the 17 different instrumental ‘parts without scores’ provided by the composer, is heard in an arrangement described by Katrin Zenz as a ‘new piece for flute and piano’.
This is a marvelous release, equally perfect in conception, execution, and engineering. The program locates the intellectual origins of the American avant-garde composers Morton Feldman and John Cage not in postwar European developments, but in the music of Erik Satie, who with each decade seems a more pioneering figure. Feldman and Cage here seem not modernists, but postmodernists. Front and center at the beginning is Feldman's masterpiece Rothko Chapel (1967), a chamber-ensemble-and-chorus evocation of the Houston, Texas, chapel adorned with paintings by, and partly designed by, the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko.
This DVD is an excellent compilation of both performance and discussion of John Cage's prepared piano, featuring his finest interpreter. Recommended for all Cage fans and fans of modern music.