Cage is most famous for his use of indeterminacy in music, thus freeing the music of any composer’s intent. His iconic 4’33’’ completely erases the composer from the equation. His Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano create a new instrument out of the most common one, just by placing screws and other hardware in the strings.
John Cage brilliantly used nested proportions in this composition.
According to Jeffrey Perry, writer for Music Theory Spectrum:
“Cage employs the macro/microstructural principle with more subtlety and wit in the Sonatas and Interludes than in any of his prior works. Evidence of this is found in the durational series, which is more complex, and in the subtler inter- penetration of rhythmic architecture and musical surface. The durational series that governs the proportions of Sonata I on both the macro- and the micro levels is 11/4 , 3/4, 11/4 , 3/4 , 11/2, 11/2; at the macro level, 1 is equivalent to seven measures of 2/2, or 7 times 4 quarter notes, as shown by the groupings at the very bottom of Example 4. On the micro level, one unit is equivalent to a measure of 2/2, or four quarters. This is shown on the next highest level in the example.
The repeat signs group together the four components of Sonata I’s rhythmic structure into two pairs: the first playing of the first reprise presents 11/4 and 3/4, and the repeat ex- presses the next two terms, which are also 11/4 and 3/4. Each iteration sums to 11/4 + 3/4 = 2. The same applies to the sec- ond reprise, which twice iterates 11/2 macro units. The durational series as a whole thus sums to the proportion 4:3, which, as shown in the upper portion of the example, ex- presses itself at myriad temporal levels, and through subdivision, augmentation, and diminution determines the duration of many of the surface gestures. The pre-compositional hierarchy of micro- and macrostructures does not necessarily determine the surface phrase structure of the music at every level; however, to a large extent Cage uses conventional pitch connections and gestures to project either parts of the structure or the simpler 4 to 3 ratio that results from it, the latter often subdivided into 2 to 2 to 3, on and below the surface of the sonata.” (Perry, 41)
Indeterminacy was pioneered by Charles Ives and further expanded by Cage. He wanted the same piece of music to lend itself to several different interpretations in performance.
This piece is a great use of the piano as a percussion instrument. The hammers strike the strings to create an odd metallic vibraphone effect.
Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano: Performance, Hearing and Analysis
Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Spring 2005), pp. 35-66
Published by: Oxford University Press
Article DOI: 10.1525/mts.2005.27.1.35
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mts.2005.27.1.35