Thursday, September 02, 2004

Review of a Review

In the latest issue of Music Theory Online, Rob Haskins reviews The Cambridge Companion to John Cage. This is an excellent review, combining a masterful exegesis of John Cage's oeuvre with an honest description of the component articles. I learned many things about John Cage and about the current state of scholarship about Cage. I'm not familiar with his later works, so this review has sparked my interest in listening to some of these pieces. I don't think I knew that Cage was gay, and I definitely didn't know about his connection with the Bauhaus group:
The biographical information is fascinating in itself: Cage, his romantic partner of the time (Don Sample), and Harry Hay staged and performed early Cage songs according to Bauhaus principles, complete with appropriate costumes. Shultis's citation of a 1927 quotation from Mies van der Rohe is more provocative: "Is form really an aim? Is it not instead a product of the design process? Is it not the process which is essential?" Anyone who has even a slight familiarity with Cage's conception of structure, process, and form in his early music, or who knows the duality between object and process that informs all of his chance music, will immediately recognize how deeply such sentiments as Rohe's could have affected the young composer.

Every new thing I learn about Cage reminds me that he wasn't a hack going for the cheap shock or drug-induced silliness. He had a genuine love for music, and wanted to create music that meant something to him and others. We can't ask any more of a composer.

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