Music of Changes
Joseph Kubera, piano
When John Cage returned from his six-month visit to Europe with Merce Cunningham in the fall of 1949 he brought back with him the autograph manuscript of the Second Piano Sonata of his new friend Pierre Boulez. Boulez had given Cage the autograph, along with his sketches for the Sonata, in appreciation of Cage’s efforts on his behalf in procuring a French publisher for the work (Cage was tireless in his support for the music of other composers.) In 1952, in a reciprocal gesture of friendship, Cage sent Boulez the autograph of his Music of Changes, completed in December 1951. The score became part of the Pierre Boulez collection acquired by the Paul Sacher Foundation; an ink copy used for publication, as well as the autograph and sketches of the Boulez Second Sonata, are currently in the John Cage Archive at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Cage’s preparatory materials are part of the David Tudor Archive at the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities in Santa Monica, California.
Like the Boulez Sonata, Music of Changes is a manifesto. It marks Cage’s first comprehensive “exploration of non-intention” through the systematic use of chance operations to create a complete, major work. Cage had first employed chance as a compositional technique in the third movement of the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1950-51), where it had been limited to facilitating the transfer of pitch materials from Cage’s pre-compositional charts to the score. Having found the means of reaching his goal of “un-aesthetic choice”, Cage undertook “a long piano work (unprepared)” in which he could apply the new technique to all aspects of the compositional process. Begun in May 1951 and completed on 13 December of that year, Music of Changes was named in honor of the I Ching, or Book of Changes, the ancient Chinese book of oracles that had become Cage’s means of synthesizing chance with rigorous discipline.
In addition to charts of pitch material consisting of single pitches, simple intervals, multiple sonorities, and more complex figurations, Cage prepared charts containing specifications for the tempos, durations, dynamics, and textural densities of Music of Changes. Each chart contained 64 segments, making a simple correspondence with the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. To determine which events, if any (by now silence was for Cage on an equal footing with sound), would occur in each section of the work’s four parts, Cage followed the method given in the I Ching, using coin tosses rather than yarrow sticks. Each set of three coin tosses directed him to a given hexagram which in turn corresponded to a segment on the relevant chart. The first page of the autograph shows the result of this process in the first ten measures of Music of Changes. For example, measures 1-3, the first structural section of the work, are a composite of six (out of a total of eight) textural layers, together with their sonorities, tempo and dynamic indications, and durations drawn from Cage’s charts.
The measures themselves are equal in length; at the top of the page is Cage’s spatial-temporal indication “10 cm. = o”, that is, a whole note is equivalent to 10 centimeters, or one measure, of the score. (The reduced size of the published edition of Music of Changes obscures this crucial function of the notation.) Cage’s notation heralded a new concept of musical time, placing the performer in a new relation to the score, one in which orientation is to the occurrence of events rather than to the relations between them, which is to say to action rather than to memory. At the request of David Tudor, the indispensable pianist for whom Music of Changes was written, the mathematician Hans Rademacher devised two formulas for calculating the duration of each section of the work, one for those sections in which the tempo was constant, one for those in which the tempo was internally modified by an accelerando or ritardando, and both based on the common unit of 60 beats per minute. Tudor copied the resultant timings into his score, playing the notes proportionally by referring to a stopwatch placed on the music rack. It was a musical world, Tudor said, in which “I was watching time rather than experiencing it.”
Performances of Music of Changes have been rare since Tudor ceased playing the work in the late 1950s; Herbert Henck and, more recently, Joseph Kubera are among the few pianists to have assayed the obstacles posed by its innovations. For all its prominence in the history of postwar music, Music of Changes has remained more discussed than heard, more treatise than artwork.
© 1997 John Holzaepfel
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John Cage: A Memoir
LECTURE ON THE WEATHER 1992. On August 11, a frightening electric storm gathering. I was talking on the phone at 5:00 PM with a friend who asked how the weather looked outside. “It looks like the end of the world is near,” I told her half in jest as I looked out from C. F. Peters’ office on Park Avenue South, across the gargoyles of the New York Life Insurance Building in the direction of Sixth Avenue where clouds clustered ominously. For the first time in years lightning made it dangerous to leave work, and many of us waited it out. That there were dangers to physical and mental life in the air on that afternoon was - of course - pure chance. What rational person could believe otherwise? ROOT OF AN UNFOCUS. At some time during the next hour John Cage suffered a life-ending stroke. SILENCE.
APARTMENT HOUSE 1970-l992: When I joined the Peters publishing firm in 1970 Cage, already assuming near legendary status, seemed to me serenely outside the combative aesthetic viewpoints and never-ending musical politics of the New York Scene. FADS AND FANCIES IN THE ACADEMY. He appeared gently to reflect the values that made each day in music (and in life) interesting: acceptance, tolerance, experimentation, discipline, curiosity, humor without cynicism, democracy of sounds, the positive chaos of nature, the business of getting one’s daily work done well. MUSIC WALK. He wasn’t about conscious control and manipulation of either musical materials or people (the two activities often went hand in hand I soon noticed), not about highly organized complexity of sound or the self-referential world of virtuosic composition or performance. He seemed to occupy a spiritual center of his own. One always looked forward to something absolutely new from him (49 WALTZES FOR THE FIVE BOROUGHS), usually a concept so original and clean that it seemed impossible no one else had ever thought of it before.
INLETS. One had the pleasure of seeing the ideas of each new piece go out of the publishing house and become accepted by a few and then by many others. BRANCHES, MUSIC OF CHANGES.
SPONTANEOUS EARTH. Far from being a “Minimalist” (as the misguided caption-maker of The New York Times’ obituary dubbed him), Cage was the ultimate Maximalist of a vast panorama of musical media and silence. How appropriate that, having lived a harmonious life, he succeeded also in making his music anarchaically harmonic in his late Number Pieces, which will prove to be in his legacy what his once nemesis Beethoven’s last works were in his. And how ironic that John Cage in the end finally exceeded even the expectations of Schoenberg and paid his revered teacher the extreme compliment of concluding a creative life in harmony on the undreaded number: THIRTEEN.
WHERE ARE WE GOING? AND WHAT ARE WE DOING? WAITING. MYSTERIOUS ADVENTURE. CREDO IN US.
Don Chance Gillespie
New York City (November 1992)
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Hailed by Village Voice critic Kyle Gann as one of “new music’s most valued performers,” pianist JOSEPH KUBERA has gained international renown as a major interpreter of contemporary music. He has appeared at such major festivals as the Prague Spring, Berlin Inventionen Festival, New Music America, and the Henry Cowell Centennial Festivals in Berkeley and New York.
Since he met John Cage in the early 1970s on the West Coast, he has been a major proponent of his work, and is one of the few pianists performing the difficult works from the 50s through the 70s such as Music of Changes and Etudes Australes. At Cage’s invitation, Kubera toured with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1977 to 1980, and has been a guest soloist at festivals celebrating Cage such as Mills College and the Guggenheim Museum. He has recorded the Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the Orchestra ofthe S.E.M. Ensemble under Petr Kotik for Wergo; he has also performed the work with the San Francisco Symphony under John Adams.
Kubera has worked with a broad range of ensembles in New York, including the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Essential Music, the Bowery Ensemble, and Steve Reich and Musicians, among others. He is a core member of the S.E.M. Ensemble and Roscoe Mitchell’s New Chamber Ensemble, and he performs and tours widely with new-music baritone Thomas Buckner. He has also worked closely with such composers as Robert Ashley, La Monte Young and Peter Zummo. Works have been written for him by Anthony Coleman, David First, Joel Forrester, Alvin Lucier, Roscoe Mitchell, and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. A frequent recitalist in New York, he appears at such new music venues as the Kitchen, Roulette, the New School, and Merkin Hall. In recent years, Kubera has been awarded performance grants by the National Endowment for the Arts (Solo Recitalist Program), the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and other arts organizations.
Joseph Kubera holds music degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the State University of New York at Buffalo. His principal teachers have been Leo Smit and Walter Hautzig. Kubera’s performances are heard on several Lovely Music recordings. He has also recorded for O.O. Discs, 1750 Arch and Opus One labels.
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Produced by “Blue” Gene Tyranny.
Recorded and edited by Tom Hamilton.
Recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City with the Cello Master Recording System.
Executive Producer: Thomas Buckner, Mutable Music Productions
Cover photo by Mark Estes.
Cage photo by Rex Rystedt.
Art Direction and Design: By Design
Published by Henmar Press, Inc. (ASCAP)
© P 1998 Lovely Music, Ltd.
LCD 2053 [D] [D] [D]