Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Note on Cage and Genre

An observation: the traditional form or genre in which Cage was most innovative was not the sonata, quartet, or concerto — although he made genre-challenging examples of each — but the oratorio.  I take the word oratorio here liberally, but literally, as a musical vehicle for the elevation of a text with didactic and/or narrative character.  His own experiences as an orator began in High School, and certainly were associated his first career ambitions, to preach (his Los Angeles High School classmate, the poet Josephine Miles, told me that he had a good voice for public speaking because it was high-pitched and carried well (oh those days before universal electronic amplification)).  It followed through his own public lectures, which were very much the work of a composer, often sharing structures and methods with his musical scores, and really established itself with Lecture on the Weather, Empty Words, and Roaratorio, all works in which Cage's own performance as a public speaker treating source materials of great value to the composer are made musical in large scale.  I dodge around the issue of whether these were sacred or secular oratorios, but note that a thematic concern with nature in these pieces is shared with the work generally identified as the first oratorio, Emilio de Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo (1600) to a libretto by Agostino Manni.

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