John Cage

Called a brilliant inventor and creator of new worlds, but also a showman and a charlatan, Cage shocked the world with his experiments, but after him art could no longer be the same. A radical and a rebel, he strove to break away from tradition in all its aspects.

He played the piano from childhood, studied composition with Henry Cowell and Arnold Schönberg (1933–1934), and gained further musical experience at the Pomona College in Claremont (California) as well as during numerous travels through Europe and Asia. In the 1940s he started regular artistic cooperation with eminent US dancer-choreographer ‘Merce’ Cunningham.

In music he focused on new types of sound, aleatoricism, total instruments, instrument preparation, graphic notation, silence and chance, instrumental theatre and happening, the use of electronic equipment, as well as links to Eastern philosophies. In 1952 he presented his possibly most famous work, the all-silent 4’33”. From the 1960s he was mostly active as an inde- pendent artist, composition teacher and lecturer at US universities. His book Silence (1961) elevated him to the status of a leading American music theorist. His experiments inspired the new generation of artists, such as John Zorn and Yoko Ono.

Cage did not limit himself to music. His interests also comprised poetry, the fine arts, philosophy, new media, and mycology (the study of fungi). His accolades included a Guggenheim Fellowship for his achievements in music for percussion and for piano (1949) as well as the Kyoto Prize for art and philosophy (1989).

Major works: Music of Changes for piano (1951), Imaginary Landscape IV for 24 performers on 12 radios (1951), Piano Concerto (1958), and the multimedia piece Musicircus (1967).

Phot. Rob Bogaerts/Anefo
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