John Cage - Piano Works 2

John Cage


mode 50


Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music Piano Works 2

Philipp Vandré,  prepared piano

First recording using a Steinway "O"-type baby grand piano (as Cage originally composed on and designed the piece for).

First recording to address and clarify several discrepancies in the printed score.

Liner notes by James Pritchett and Vandré.

"The substance of John Cage's music is elusive. It cannot be taught. It is intangible." -- Peggy Glanville-Hicks
writing about John Cage in Musical America, September 1948

The Sonatas and Interludes enjoy a well deserved reputation as a masterwork and as a repertoire piece. But this is not a masterwork in the sense of other keyboard masterworks: Bach's Goldbergs, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Ives' Concord Sonata.

Cage's masterwork is quite different -- a big piece with a quiet voice. The prepared piano operates entirely by muting: by attaching objects to the strings of the piano. Cage alters their sounds in various ways, turning the piano into a percussion orchestra akin to a gamelan. The results are different from note to note -- resonant, dry, metallic, wooden -- but always quieter than before. The prepared piano is an instrument that is personal and intimate.

Cage quietly and patiently built his large piece out of short structures. By constructing the work on the timeless foundation of Hindu aesthetics, he made each piece perfect and unhurried; focusing on the subtle modulations of his voice, speaking quietly to draw us in to explore this softly-colored world.

This new recording by young German pianist Philipp Vandré (a new music specialist who performs with Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, and his own Turfan Ensemble) is unique. It is the first recording to use the smaller Steinway "O"-type piano (the same type of piano Cage composed the Sonatas and Interludes on) rather than the commonly used grand-piano. Cage gives a detailed table of preparations for the strings and the objects to be used, including the exact placement of these objects, in direct relation to the length of the strings of the "O" piano. Vandré learned these details from the late Yvar Mikhashoff, who received this information from Cage. Because the location of the preparations is different on a larger piano, they have the effect of making the strings sound lower on a larger instrument. The choice of the piano, therefore, has an immediate effect on the sound of the prepared strings.

Vandré consulted with Cage's publisher clarifying some subtle details and discrepancies in the published score, making new corrections and choices which are also recorded for the first time. These details, combined with Vandré's thoughtful choice of preparations and loving approach to the music, make this the definitive recording of the Sonatas and Interludes


JOHN CAGE: Sonatas and Interludes
Philipp Vandre, piano

By Mike Silverton
From La Folia, issue 1.4 (

Brian Brandt's Mode Records features a flat-out gorgeous Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano as the 14th of its thusfar 17-volume John Cage series. It is Brian to whom I apply for the inside skinny when I'm short on facts for a Cage review. He is an authority, as is Mode 50's annotator, James Pritchett, who includes in his remarks those of Peggy Glanville-Hicks in '48 and Peter Yates in '49, when the music was young. The German-born pianist, Philipp Vandre, tells us that for this recording he prepared and played a Steinway "O," the baby grand Cage used, the significance being the sonorities arising from shorter strings. (The composer Lucia Dlugoszewski recalls at about that time a larger Steinway "B" in Cage's apartment, an aside I toss in as a wrench for extraction elsewhere.) Ernstalbrecht Stiebler, this Mode-Hessian Radio co-production's honcho, is himself an important composer whose essays in extended tones, Three in One [hatART Now Series CD 6169], and Im Klang [hat[now]ART 109], I heartily recommend, but only to adventurers.

To return to our lush, intimately detailed, hugely accessible Mode, Hessian Radio's Stephan Schmidt and Ruediger Orth engineered these 1994 Frankfurt sessions. As with Stiebler's austerities, the aleatory Cage remains perforce a taste for the few. The evidence on recording suggests that Cage's ante-chance, predominantly percussive work (including that for conventional piano) will secure his longterm popularity, owing in good part to the music's energizing transparency and, in the case of Sonatas and Interludes, ominous shadings, which our preparer-performer and production team reveal in the handsomest of terms.

Musik, die eigentlich nicht zu bannen ist,
John Cage: Music for Two, One, Music Walk, One 5 (Drury) Mode 47;
Sonatas & Interludes (Vandré) Mode 50;
Concerto for Prepared Piano and orchestra, Fourteen (Drury), Klavierkonzert (Tudor) Mode 57;
The Seasons, Cheap Imitation, ASLSP (Drury) Mode 63

Längst ist John Cage nicht mehr das Enfant terrible der Neuen Musik, längst nicht mehr der belächelte Provokateur, sondern als Wendepunkt der Musik- und Kunstauffassung unseres Jahrhunderts, wichtiger noch als Schönberg, im Museum der Musikgeschichte verwahrt. Sechs Jahre nach dem Tod sind Cages Werke fest in den konzertsälen etabliert - dort also, wo sie eigentlich hingehören. Nicht nur hatte Cage, der selbst keine Stereoanlage besass, ein gebrochenes Verhältnis zu Musikaufnahmen überhaupt, auch verweigern sich seine indeterminierten Kompositionen der akustischen Konservierung... Dennoch füllen CDs von Cage meterweit die Regale gut sortierter Plattenläden... Die New Yorker Mode Records haben bisher vier Klavierplatten mit Stephen Drury, Philipp Vandré und David Tudor im Programm... Vandré spielt [die Sonatas & Interludes] auf dem 1948 von Cage verwendeten kleinen "Steinway O" und kann daher sicher sein, dass die vorgeschriebenen absoluten Masse für die Orte, an denen die Gummibänder, Schrauben und Plastikstückchen zwischen den Saiten zu klemmen sind, tatsächlich eingehalten werden. So entsteht ein verhältnismässig herber Klang, der Vandré zu einer eher zurückhaltenden Gestaltung angeregt haben mag, deren Spannung haupsächlich in der individuellen artikulatorischen Differenzierung der Klänge liegt.

--- Volker Straebel, Der Tagesspiegel, 9. August 1998

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John Cage on Mode:
John Cage Profile/Discography

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