Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

Composer: John Cage (b. 1912 - d. 1992)
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Composer: John Cage (b. 1912 - d. 1992)

Performance date: 06/07/2018

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1948

Duration: 01:08:42

Recording Engineer: Ciaran Cullen, RTÉ

Instrumentation: pf

Instrumentation Category:Solo

Artists: Cédric Tiberghien - [piano]

He is not a composer, but an inventor of
on Cage


Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes are an
exercise in mathematical magic. The choreographer Syvilla Fort provided the
initial inspiration for creating this strange, new and unrecognisable
instrument by commissioning Cage to write dance music for a stage that only had
room for a piano and the dancers. Thus was the prepared piano born, whose
exotic sounds were created by experimenting with inserting amongst the strings
pieces of wood, cloth, rubber, bamboo strips, bolts, an eraser, plastic guitar
picks and even pieces of cardboard. For tonight’s work 45 of the piano’s 88
keys are prepared, while keeping the piano’s sonority for the remainder. After
several hours’ preparation the piano is transformed into a combination of
gamelan, Indian and African instruments.


this experiment began, Cage was composing entirely for percussion. Switching to
the piano, rhythm remained Cage’s primary concern. His method used rhythm to
determine the macrostructure where a classical composer might have used
exposition, development and counterpoint. Cage described it as follows:  The
whole has as many parts as each unit has small parts, and these, large and
small, are in the same proportion
. That is to say, he engineered fractals.
For each sonata, he chose four numbers. In sonata 4, for example, those numbers
were 3,3,2,2. Adding them together determined the phrase length (10 bars) with
internal phrases of 3 bars, 3 bars, 2 bars, 2 bars. These 10-bar phrases were
in turn arranged into 2 groups of 3 (an A-section with repeat) followed by 2
groups of 2 (B-section with repeat). So the whole piece came to 10×10 bars.  For all this, the notation is entirely
conventional, with a surprising number of 4/4 bars. Aside from the interludes,
the majority of the sonatas follow the AABB form with the repetition giving
strange sounds the feeling of familiarity.


cycle’s immense sound-world owes a lot to African influences but its aesthetic
can be traced to India. Cage disagreed with the western conception that music’s
purpose is to express a thought or a feeling. His sympathy was with the Indian
notion, discovered in an exchange with an Indian student of his – Gita
Sarabhai. Her teacher had said, and Cage often repeated, that music’s purpose
is to sober and quiet the mind, thus
rendering it susceptible to divine influences
. He paired this with another ancient
Indian idea – rasa – a concept which
describes the aesthetic flavour of any visual, literary or musical work. A Sanskrit
text holds that while entertainment is desirable, the primary goal of art is to
transport the audience into a parallel reality, one of wonder and bliss, where
people experience the essence of their consciousness, and reflect on spiritual
and moral questions. (This is not altogether dissimilar to Mahler’s notion that
moral enlightenment can be found through music.) The system also outlines a
hierarchy of emotions – of which there are 4 that are light and 4 that are
dark. The ninth emotion to which all others resolve is tranquillity. Perhaps
that is why this work of magnificent and varied colours, delicately peters out.