John Cage Sonatas & Interludes
The prepared piano is perhaps John Cage’s most famous invention. He created it out of necessity in 1940, when he was composing music for a dance by Syvilla Fort. She wanted an ‘African’ sound so Cage modified a piano. He did this with screws, bolts, pencil rubbers and draft-proofing material placed in the strings of the instrument. The result was a series of clunks, buzzes, pings and rattles. Exquisitely exotic.
The Sonatas and Interludes were composed between 1946 and 1948, when Cage was developing his radical ideas about musical structure focusing away from pitch and on to proportional lengths of time determined by bar counts and phrase lengths. The score is written in conventional notation, but, when a key is depressed, the result is just as likely to be a ping or a rattle as a note. Cage had circumvented pitch with all kinds of noises.
James Tenney was a composer/performer who knew Cage very well, so when he made his recording ten years ago (he died in 2006) he knew exactly what was needed to execute a good performance. Indeed, this can be heard on this CD – clarity of rhythmic structure, steady tempo and a playing style that is as far from the Romantics as possible. But we also hear an awful lot of the room in which it was recorded. At times the acoustic almost engulfs the piano.