PLAYLIST #1 ~ TRACK 1

Cage: ‘Prelude for meditation’  [1’06”]

Stephen Drury, piano

01 John Cage preparing a piano

John Cage: motto same as the Boy Scouts’


The out-of-time Prelude for meditation, just to tune us in, is a piece the 36-year-old Californian John Cage wrote in 1944, for him as for the world a time of great turmoil, for his celebrated innovation the prepared piano. “Prepared” in this context refers to the introduction of everyday objects into the innards of a normal piano to modify the timbre of particular notes for the duration of a piece. His sometime teacher Arnold Schoenberg famously said of Cage: “He’s not a composer. He’s an inventor – of genius.” But Cage was a composer alright, certainly at this stage in his development. Indeed an argument could be made that his (relatively) traditional earlier music, up to 1950, constitutes one of the twentieth century’s most undervalued bodies of work, appreciation of its often simple beauties being obscured by his reputation, well earned through later projects, as in many respects the furthest-out composer ever to draw breath.

Though pre-dating the step he would shortly take in the direction of what he called non-intention, which was a move away from self-expression towards complete renunciation of authorial control, most notoriously through the use of chance procedures, this miniscule utterance is clearly anything but driven, by rhetoric or anything else: Erik Satie was already an inspiration. By contrast with the magnum opus of the prepared piano, his 70-minute Sonatas and interludes (1948), Cage here confines himself to an extremely modest range of preparations – only four of the piano notes employed being affected – just as the repertoire of pitches and the range of rhythmic gestures are deliberately kept very narrow. As played here with appropriate quietude by Stephen Drury, the result sounds disembodied, or as though something – call it a tradition – is finally expiring.

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