Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage
This year the musical world has been celebrating the centenary of John Cage (1912–92) – composer, performer, writer, visual artist, mycologist, and agent provocateur – throughout the United States and Europe, including the BBC Proms and English National Opera.
While Cage was the greatest musical inventor of the twentieth century, his influence on contemporary musical life in South Africa has not been as significant as elsewhere in the world. Nevertheless on the eve of his 100th birthday the occasion will be marked with a programme featuring the instrument that he “invented” — the prepared piano. By inserting materials such as coins, rubber, felt and screws between the strings, he transformed the grand piano into a percussion ensemble — a gamelan under the hands of one person.
His teachers included Henry Cowell, one of the first composers to explore extensively chord clusters and playing the strings of the piano directly. Two of his most well-known “string” pieces, Aeolian Harp and The Banshee — inspired by theosophist John Varian’s interest in Irish mythology — open the concert and set the stage for the prepared piano pieces of Cage himself.
Firstly two shorter pieces with fairly simple preparations: A Valentine out of Season was written for his wife Xenia in 1944, while he wrote Music for Marcel Duchamp for the Duchamp sequence in Hans Richter’s 1947 dada film Dreams that Money Can Buy. Then The Perilous Night of 1944, a suite in six movements with more complex preparations, its title take from an Irish folktale about a perilous bed which rested on a floor of polished jasper, and the music telling the story of the dangers of the erotic life…
Michael Blake’s pieces were composed in the early 1980s for Shirley Hoffmann, who requested a piece for the SABC Contemporary Music Festival in 1983 and premiered Gang o’ Notes on that occasion, while Handful of Keys was written a year later. Both derive from jazz piano transcriptions, of Art Tatum and Fats Waller, and employ the same preparations as The Perilous Night.
Michael Blake prepared piano
Introduced by the Composers
John Cage The Perilous Night – A Valentine out of Season - Music for Marcel Duchamp
Henry Cowell Aeolian Harp – The Banshee
Michael Blake Gang o’ Notes – Handful of Keys
Admission to the performance is free of charge.