Music Articles

John Cage, 4'33", and Experimental
Music in 1950s America
(Page 2 of 5)

by Melissa Fallon

John Cage was born in 1912 in Los Angles to an inventor father and journalist mother. From an early age Cage was exposed to music, which came in the form of piano lessons given to him by neighborhood piano teachers and his Aunt Phoebe. At this early age he expressed great interest in sight-reading and not so much in composition work that he would become famous for later on.4 As he entered adolescence, Cage found himself engaging in constant theological debate with his friends and the Liberal Catholic Church became a large part of his life. This would all change however when Cage entered Pomona College in Claremont, California in 1928.

It was while at Pomona College that Cage abandoned religion and discovered the arts, helping the out in the organization of modern paintings.5 It was this exposure to the world of modern art that would help shape Cage's musical influence later on. This exposure to the world of modern art only grew when Cage found himself studying abroad in Paris, where he was profoundly struck by the Gothic and Modern architecture.6

Upon returning home to California, Cage found himself in the midst of the Great Depression. To earn a living, Cage sold lectures on modern art and music door to door.7 In order to advance his expertise in the world of music, Cage traveled to New York to study composition. With his new expertise in composition, Cage found himself working with the likes of Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg who was a big figure in the expressionist movement. It was Schoenberg who would become his greatest influence and was someone Cage would worship.8

During the late 1930's Cage would find himself working in the art of modern dance and would compose music for these choreographies. It was also at this time that Cage began experimenting with unorthodox sounds and instruments such as household items, metal sheets, and so on.9 From there, Cage would find himself in Seattle at the Cornish School for the Arts. It was while at the Cornish School in Seattle, Cage would find his earliest success as a composer in the art of percussion music, something he took on with gusto, confidence and flair.10

He received great fame by touring his percussion ensemble across the West Coast. As his work reached a wider audience Cage attempted to establish a Center of Experimental Music calling it, "A place where the work with percussion could continue, and where it could be supplemented by the results of close collaboration between musicians and sound engineers, so that the musical possibilities might be continually refreshed with new technological instruments."11 This however would only be the beginning of John Cage's fame.

4 Richard Kostelanetz, Conversing With Cage (New York: Routledge,    2003), 2.
5 David Nicholls, John Cage (Chicago: University of Illinois Press,    2007), 11.
6 Kostelanetz, 4.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 6.
9 David Revill, The Roaring Silence: John Cage: A Life (New York:    Arcade Publishing, 1993), 55.
10 James Pritchett, The Music of John Cage (New York: Cambridge    University Press, 1993), 11.
11 Ibid.

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