John Cage Sonatas for Unprepared Piano

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ALBUM TITLE: John Cage Sonatas for Unprepared Piano
WORKS: Sonatas 1-16 for prepared piano; Interludes 1-4 for prepared piano
PERFORMER: Cédric Pescia (piano)


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.

The acoustic is better [than Tenney's] in Cédric Pescia’s recording, but his playing involves too much ‘interpretation’; it’s too expressive, too delicate at times and the result is a distraction. This is unfortunate, as he has spent three years playing the piece in concert, but there is too much Pescia in this rendition and not enough Cage.


Robert Worby