Sonic Diet

Piano / Prepared Piano / Toy Piano Concert: Music By John Cage & Others

words by Robert J. Baumann

Robert Baumann of Woodland Pattern Book Center shares with us an upcoming Woodland Pattern-organized event taking place this Friday evening, dedicated to the talented experimental pioneer, John Cage:

John Cage (1912-1992) had an enormous effect on the piano music of the middle twentieth century through his invention of the “prepared” piano, his focus on the rhythmic structures of modern dance, his use of “chance operations” to make compositional decisions, and his work with the limited sound gamut of toy piano. This concert for piano, prepared piano and toy piano presents a brief overview of both his innovations as well as displays the beauty of some of his most meditative works.

This celebratory concert features two works for prepared piano – Mysterious Adventure composed for a dance by Merce Cunningham, and Music for Marcel Duchamp composed for the Duchamp segment of the 1947 film Dreams That Money Can Buyby dada filmmaker Hans Richter.

John Cage invented the “prepared” piano in 1938 when he couldn’t complete a commission to accompany dancer Syvilla Fort with his percussion orchestra. Taking inspiration from earlier works by Henry Cowell who directly manipulated the strings of a piano, Cage experimented with placing objects on and between the strings of a piano. These “preparations” changed both the pitch and timbre of the notes struck. The music is noted directly as traditional piano music, but the results often sound like Indonesian Gamelan or diverse percussion instruments.

In a Landscape and Dream for piano, and Nocturne for violin and piano present a gentle and meditative side of Cage’s early music. In a Landscape was composed for a dance by Louise Lippold and Dream for a dance by Merce Cunningham. In the Nocturne, Cage tries to dissolve the difference between strings and piano sounds creating an atmospheric effect. Suite for Toy Pianowas composed in the summer of 1948 while Cage was teaching at the radical arts school Black Mountain College. This virtuoso composition of five short pieces uses only the nine “white” keys from E below middle C to F above.

The composition 4’ 33” is perhaps Cage’s most important as well as misunderstood work. The title identifies the time length of this three-movement work which Cage laboriously composed using chance operations to determine the length of the work through musical “rests.” The instructions for the performer are “tacet” which is the musical term for silence. Through instructing the performer not to make any sounds, Cage is calling the listener’s attention to the unintended sounds of our environment (coughs, crying babies, passing trucks, etc.) even in the concert hall. Having discovered in the late 1940s, by visiting an anechoic chamber (a silent room), that there is no such thing as silence – since life is always accompanied by sounds (heartbeat, respiration, etc.) – with 4’ 33” Cage placed musical silence to the front of the listener’s attention.

Seventy Nine Years (in memorium JC) by Steve Nelson-Raney is an homage to Cage following Cage’s death in 1992 just short of is 80th birthday. The work includes indeterminate aspects and is dedicated to Madison, WI pianist ellsworth snyder (sic), a colleague of Cage’s who was an indefatigable champion of contemporary music, and was the first person to have written a dissertation on Cage. This is the work’s Milwaukee premier.

About the performers

Adam Baus is a Piano Pedagogy graduate of Drake University. Recently he has worked with Shorewood Players, the Skylight Education Department, Shorewood Middle School, Cedarburg High School, and the Skylight Opera Theatre. He teaches at First Stage Children’s Theater Summer Academy, as well as maintains his own studio of piano students.

Linda Binder, violinist and mandolinist, freelances and performs regularly with several ensembles in the Milwaukee / Chicago area. Her musical interests range widely and include most audible phenomena.

Paul Gaudynski is a visual artist, photographer, instrument builder and musician specializing in piano, diatonic button accordion and theremin. He is active in new music performance, traditional Irish music, and nature soundscape recordings. Gaudynski is a founding member of Aqua Velveeta, has composed music for WildSpace Dance Company and dancers Diane VanDerhei and Bill Young, and has performed at the First International Theremin Festival with Russian Theremin virtuoso Lydia Kavina.

Steve Nelson-Raney has been active as a composer, pianist and saxophonist in jazz, contemporary music and free improvisation idioms since the mid sixties.  He taught for twenty years in the Music Department of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Ruben Piirainen holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance from Lawrence University and Bowling Green State University. This summer he performed John Cage’s Suite For Toy Piano at the Make Music New York Festival; his local credits include Skylight Music Theatre, Present Music, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Festival City Symphony, and Kenosha Symphony.

Renato Umali studied music at Northwestern University, graduating in 1993.  Currently, he teaches private piano lessons at Brass Bell Music Store and is on the faculty in the Film Department at UW-Milwaukee.

About Woodland Pattern Book Center

Woodland Pattern opened a nonprofit organization in 1980 with the support of the Milwaukee community and has since presented thousands of readings, arts exhibitions, music performances, films, and workshops. The bookstore features innovative literature from small and independent presses from around the world, and also boasts an extensive collection of Native American lit. In the last fifteen years, Woodland Pattern has also provided essential arts education for at-risk youth in Milwaukee by teaming up with Milwaukee Public Schools to provide after school workshops and summer poetry camps.


4′ 33″ (1952) John Cage, tacet, any instrument or combination of instruments

Mysterious Adventure (1945) John Cage, for prepared piano

In a Landscape (1948) John Cage, piano

Music for Marcel Duchamp (1947) John Cage, for prepared piano

Dream (1948) John Cage, for piano

Nocturne (1947) John Cage, for violin and piano

Suite for Toy Piano (1948) John Cage, for toy piano

Seventy Nine Years (in memorium JC) (1993) Steve Nelson-Raney, for piano (dedicated to ellsworth snyder)

Piano / Prepared Piano / Toy Piano Concert: Music By John Cage & Others takes place on Friday, September 28th [7 p.m.] at the Florentine Opera Studio [926 E. Burleigh Street].   More information available by contacting Thomas Gaudynski [414-962-3374].

This entry was published on September 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm. It’s filed under Previews, shows and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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