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Understanding Indeterminate Music through Performance: Cage's Solo for Piano


This article demonstrates how performance may further understanding of – and offer new perspectives on – indeterminate music, and in particular the ways in which performers realize the indeterminate aspects of the scores. Cage's Solo for Piano (1957–8), one of the most celebrated indeterminate scores, is used as the model for such an approach. The close involvement that performers have with the score and the music over what is often a prolonged period of time leads to a particular kind of understanding, different from that of non-performers, which, when articulated, can offer valuable insights. After a brief outline of the score, the article begins by discussing the performances of other pianists, notably David Tudor. It then examines in detail the author's own approach to making a realization, discussing the implications of such an approach from both practical and aesthetic perspectives.

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David W. Bernstein , and Christopher Hatch , eds. Writings through Cage's Music, Poetry, and Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

John Cage , Michael Kirby , and Richard Schechner . ‘An Interview with John Cage’. Tulane Drama Review 10/2 (1965), 5072.

Catherine Costello Hirata . ‘The Sounds of the Sounds Themselves: Analyzing Morton Feldman's Early Music’. Perspectives of New Music 34/1 (1996), 627.

John Holzaepfel . ‘Reminiscences of a Twentieth-Century Pianist: an Interview with David Tudor’. Musical Quarterly 78/3 (1994), 626–36.

Judy Lochhead . ‘Performance Practice in the Indeterminate Works of John Cage’. Performance Practice Review 7/2 (1994), 233–41.

Heinz-Klaus Metzger , and Ian Pepper . ‘John Cage, or Liberated Music’. October 82 (1997), 4861.

James Pritchett . ‘David Tudor as Composer / Pianist in Cage's “Variations II”’. Leonardo Music Journal 14 (2004), 1116.

John Rink . Review of Musical Structure and Performance, by Wallace Berry. Music Analysis 9/3 (1990), 319–39.

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Twentieth-Century Music
  • ISSN: 1478-5722
  • EISSN: 1478-5730
  • URL: /core/journals/twentieth-century-music
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