Monday, July 09, 2012

Where the Heart Beats 5

"Chapter 4: Four Walls (1942-1946)" describes a very emotionally turbulent time in John Cage's life.  Different stories are told of how his marriage to Xenia fell apart, both from her perspective and from his.  Regardless of whose fault it was, it was clear that Cage was scared of the social dangers inherent in his homosexuality, but also became aware that he could no longer deny those feelings.  The author uses Henry Cowell's conviction on child molestation as an illustration of Cage's thinking.  Cowell had been driven by social taboos to seek sexual gratification with 17-year-old bullies in his neighborhood, rather than to enjoy physical affection with a peer.  The author suggests that his sentence of 15 years was caused more by Cowell's self-loathing about his sexual attractions to men than by the justice system's concern for the safety of the teenagers.  This self-loathing may be what Cage feared he could descend into, accompanied by the professional destruction that Cowell faced. 

While I'm still not happy with the author's descriptions of Cage's music, it is not because she is not trying.  She quotes performers and critics in efforts to describe Four Walls, The Perilous Night, and Ophelia, as well as including her own emotional impressions.  What frustrates me as a music theorist is that there is little or no detail on the musical structures themselves that create these impressions.  I want to know what type of chord is repeated att he end of Four Walls, what the melody line is, how much of the structure was determined by Cage and how much by the performer.

Larson does do a good job in showing how Cage's personal concerns affected his aesthetic philosophy, as he became concerned that the emotional energy he poured into his works was not recognized by the audience, critics, and fellow artists.  It was in this personal and artistic confusion that Cage found Zen Buddhism to be a lifeline; a way to survive the divorce from Xenia, a way to come to terms with his sexuality, a way to find better reasons for writing music.

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