John Cage and the Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Introduction

The Concert for Piano and Orchestra by John Cage is widely regarded as a seminal work, not just within Cage’s own output but in the context of twentieth-century music and techniques. Ever since Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg organised an exhibition to run alongside the first performance of the work (which they organised), exhibitions of graphic scores, American experimental work, and other themes associated with Cage, regularly include pages from the piano part, the Solo for Piano. As well as the innovations in notations, formally - as a set of parts without score, to be performed in any combination and relationship, including with other works - it throws open the notions of open form and the open work to a far greater degree than any earlier work by any twentieth-century composer.

The Concert is recognised as being of great importance to the history of twentieth-century music, but how it might be understood and performed remains a puzzle. It is the purpose of this project to demystify the work in all aspects: to advance how the work is viewed and understood and to provide insights and a range of possibilities to future performers. This AHRC-funded, three-year project explores the historical context of the work, undertakes close analytical examination of the notations, and takes in approaches to performance, both historical and contemporary. The findings of the research will be articulated in a major book publication, through conference papers, performances and, crucially, by means of an interactive website. This website, currently under development, will enable users to interact with the notations and with audio samples and recordings, to create realisations, new audio versions, and to better understand the techniques and processes explored in this remarkable work.

The project is a joint venture between researchers at the University of Huddersfield and the University of Leeds. It is led by Professors Philip Thomas and Martin Iddon.

 

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