Cage Early Piano Works

Luxuriating in a landscape, maybe, but this is a fascinating Cage document

Author: 
Peter Dickinson
Cage henck

CAGE Early Piano Works

  • Metamorphosis
  • In a Landscape
  • Ophelia
  • (2) Pieces
  • (2) Pieces
  • Quest

The shock here is that this is simply piano music – no preparations, nothing played from the inside, every detail notated. In a Landscape, with a dozen recordings already, tops Cage’s greatest hits. It was written for dance, can be played on harp or piano, and again exercises its uncanny, mesmeric powers in this performance by Herbert Henck, who takes it much more slowly than the marked tempo. He luxuriates convincingly, taking five minutes longer than the nearly eight minutes of Margaret Leng Tan who, surprisingly, is not note-perfect (New Albion, 7/95).

But Henck’s performances throughout are fastidious in representing every detail of the scores. The longest work, The Seasons (1947), was a ballet for Lincoln Kirstein which, like the Sonatas and Interludes, shows Cage’s interest in Indian philosophy before he moved on to Zen: the orchestral version was performed at the Proms last year and has now been recorded (ECM, 6/00). At this period, perceptibly under the influence of Satie, Cage would assemble a collection of attractive sounds and then rotate them automatically, a procedure that became his trademark. The Two Pieces (1946) use some of the same autonomous sonorities as The Seasons in a different context.

Some of these early pieces are not linked to dance but stem from Cage’s study with Schoenberg and his development of his own kind of row technique. Late in life Cage liked his early keyboard pieces but found A Metamorphosis the least interesting. These are fascinating documents, well recorded, which bring this part of Cage’s enormous output quite naturally into the mainstream of 20th-century piano music.

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