John Cage’s 1948 magnum opus for prepared piano, takes the listener through an hour-long journey told as a meditative story. Influenced by the Hindu aesthetic theory of rasa, or emotional character, it intones the listener toward tranquility.
This is John Cage’s 1948 magnum opus for prepared piano, considered by many his first masterpiece. Gentle, dazzling sonorities and almost neoclassical structures take a listener through an hour-long journey toward tranquillity. Composed in 1946–1948, shortly after Cage’s introduction to Indian philosophy and the teachings of art historian Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, both of became major influences on the composer’s later work.
From Coomaraswamy’s book The Dance of Shiva (1924), Cage was influenced by the Hindu aesthetic theory of rasa and its eight “permanent emotional characters.” These are divided into two groups: four white (humor, wonder, erotic, and heroic—”accepting one’s experience”, in Cage’s words) and four black (anger, fear, disgust, and sorrow). They are the first eight of the navrasas (“nine emotions”), and they have a common tendency towards the ninth of the navarasas: tranquility.
A prepared piano is a piano sound-altered by placing objects (preparations) between or on the strings or on the hammers or dampers. In Sonatas and Interludes the preparation is complex, using screws and various types of bolts, but also with fifteen pieces of rubber, four pieces of plastic, several nuts and one eraser.
Cage was fond of telling a story from Irish legend, in which a prince and a magical horse follow the path of a magic ball that rolls in front of them. The rolling ball takes them from one adventure to another, ultimately taking them to the object of their quest. These large ongoing pieces of Cage’s have this same quality: start here and follow the rolling ball. While composing them, he knows exactly what he’s doing — he’s following his system — but he has no idea where he’s going. –James Pritchett
Piece 1 – John Cage, Sonata 1 / Montage Inventions And Etudes, or A Short Story Of Piano Music / shot and cut by Pavel Ruminov, who works on Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/user1058563
Piece 2 – Sonata II perfomed by Boris Berman taken from the Naxos recording of “John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.”
Piece 3 – Sonatas and Interludes – for prepared piano XiV-XV Gemini (named for a sculpture by Richard Lippold). Performed By Klara Körmendi: Piano
Piece 4 – Sonata XII
Updated 15 January 2019