John Cage - The Piano Concertos

John Cage


mode 57


Mode Records - A Record Label Devoted to New Music The Piano Concertos

Concert for Piano and Orchestra (30:05)
David Tudor, piano
Ensemble Modern
Ingo Metzmacher, conductor

Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra (9:12 / 9:30 / 4:58)
(1951, first CD recording)

Fourteen (20:00)
(1990, first recording)
Stephen Drury, piano & bowed piano
Callithumpian Consort
Charles Peltz, conductor

This major release marks the first time that all of John Cage's Piano Concertos have been collected on one disc. It is especially valuable because it brings together two of Cage's favorite pianists -- the legendary David Tudor and renowned new-music champion Stephen Drury.

Here Tudor makes a rare appearance as piano soloist with Germany's acclaimed Ensemble Modern for the Concert for Piano and Orchestra. This is the last performance of David Tudor at the piano, recorded at 1992's Cage Festival in Frankfurt (which sadly became a memorial as Cage passed away shortly before the performances).

The Concert for Piano and Orchestra is an ever-expanding galaxy of sonic possibilities with the principle of independence. With no master score; orchestral players may start anywhere in his or her part according to their independently derived timetable. The pianist swims in the same sort of musical aquarium as the orchestra, not only producing traditional sounds on the keyboard, but also playing inside the instrument, along with unspecified auxiliary noise sources. Cage's comment on the expansive and contradictory nature of this sound universe is telling: "The only thing I was being consistent to in this piece was that I did not need to be consistent."

Drury is the soloist for the beautifully exquisite Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra, one of the last works in his early style, and Cage's final work for piano with ensemble, Fourteen. The Concerto is about the conflict between structure and freedom, between improvisation and order which Cage describes as "a drama between the piano, which remains romantic, expressive, and the orchestra, which itself follows the principles of oriental philosophy." With the prepared piano, altered by the insertion of objects between the strings, the pressing of a key yields not a single tone but a complex sonority. At the core of the 22-piece orchestra is a large array of percussion -- including instruments like an amplified slinky, a "water gong" (a Cage invention), and a radio. The orchestra is, in effect, a continuation of the prepared piano whose sonorities follow each other as a "melodic line without accompaniment", to quote Cage. Cage worked extensively with Drury and conductor Charles Peltz in rehearsing this work.

In Fourteen, the instruments play independently from each other; producing only simple pitches, which tend to be either very long or isolated, brief events. The solo piano is not played conventionally, rather its strings are bowed with rosined nylon fishing line, producing an ethereal, mysterious sound. Using the bowed piano's unique sound as a focus, and bracketing and mirroring the achievement of the Concerto for Prepared Piano, Cage creates in Fourteen a music which defines silence and is defined by silence.


John Cage
Piano Concert; Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra; Fourteen

Mode 57

There are two available recordings of Tudor playing the solo part of Cage's Concert for Piano and Orchestra, one of Cage's most appealing indeterminate works. The performers construct their parts from material that Cage provides, and the piano soloist gets 63 large pages from which to create a part. Tudor uses both piano and live electronics with the Ensemble Modern under Ingo Metzmacher on a 1992 recording, John Cage: The Piano Concertos (mode 57).
On the remainder of this marvelous mode disc Stephen Drury and the Callithumpian Consort explore Cage's Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra (1951) and Fourteen (1990), one of the late number pieces. Tudor does not use electronics in the 1958 recording of the Concert on the 3-CD set entitled The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage (Wergo 6247-2).
--- Grant Chu Covell; from "David Tudor, Performer and Composer of Live Electronic Music: A Survey of Available Recordings", La Folia Online Music Review, April 2003

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

John Cage: The Piano Concertos
Mode 57

* * * * *   Includes the wild and wonderful Concert for Piano and Orchestra, with piano and electronics by David Tudor, Cage's close friend and one of the premier performers of avant-garde music.

Deeper philosophical and political concerns also contributed to the move away from conventional staff notation. Politicized composers such as Cardew rejected the traditional score for supporting a hierarchical division of labor that required performers to subject themselves to the will of the composer. In contrast, the indeterminacy of graphic notation helped to dissolve this hierarchy, instead fostering an active collaboration between the two parties. Cage came to a similar realization, deeming his earlier "chance" composition, Music of Changes (1951), "inhuman" for its strict regulation of performance. In response, he set to work on a series of graphic scores that culminated in the astonishing Concerto of Prepared Piano and Orchestra (1957-58), a compendium of graphic elements, instructions and variables that indicates only the rough parameters of its realization.
--Christopher Cox, Pulse! October 1999

Related Resources:

John Cage on Mode:
John Cage Profile/Discography

Charles Peltz on Mode:
John Cage: The Orchestral Works 2 (mode 86)
Michael Colgrass / Gunther Schuller: Déjà vu (mode 125)
Peter Maxwell Davies: Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (mode 59)
Arthur Honegger: Christoph Colomb (mode 35)
Iannis Xenakis: Complete Works for Piano Solo (mode 80)

Ensemble Modern Profile

Charles Peltz Profile

Stephen Drury Profile
Stephen Drury Website

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