Skip to page content

John Cage


About this Artist

JOHN CAGE (1912-1992) was born in Los Angeles. He traveled in Europe (1930-31), then studied with Henry Cowell in New York (1933-4) and Schoenberg in Los Angeles (1934). His first published compositions, in a rigorous atonal system of his own, date from this period. In 1937, he moved to Seattle to work as a dance accompanist, and there in 1938 he founded a percussion orchestra; his music then evolved to filling units of time with ostinatos (First Construction (in Metal), 1939). He also began to use electronic devices (variable-speed turntables in Imaginary Landscape no.1, 1939) and invented the 'prepared piano', placing diverse objects between the strings of a grand piano in order to create an effective percussion orchestra under the control of two hands. He wrote major concert works for the new instrument: A Book of Music (1944) and Three Dances (1945) for two prepared pianos, and the Sonatas and Interludes (1948) for one.

During this period, Cage became interested in Eastern philosophies, especially in Zen. Working to remove creative choice from composition, he used coin tosses to determine events (Music of Changes for piano, 1951), wrote for 12 radios (Imaginary Landscape no. 4, also 1951) and introduced other indeterminate techniques. His 4'33" (1952) has no sound added to that of the environment in which it is performed; the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) is an encyclopedia of indeterminate notations. Cage appeared widely in Europe and the USA as a lecturer and performer, having an enormous influence on younger musicians and artists, and was the author of several books.