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We had just seen John Cage recite his mesostic/theater work, James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp, Erik Satie: An Alphabet. My composition teacher, a tenured faculty member who had won many awards including a Pulitzer Prize, told us, “Everyone should see John Cage once.”

And then, as if to underscore the idea that one only needed to see Cage once, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer added, “But of course, his ideas are much more important than his music.” At that time (the early 1980s), there weren’t many recordings of Cage’s music available, and I rarely encountered any performances of his music, so my professor’s utterance was a reasonable statement for many.

Three decades later, there are 279 recordings featuring one or more works by John Cage available on arkivmusic.com; my old teacher has under 30 listed. It isn’t just that Cage is the most-recorded member of the postwar avant-garde—he has more recordings than plenty of conservative composers. Here’s a list of the top 10 recorded composers born in the 20th century at arkivmusic.com

1. Shostakovich 1449
2. Britten 958
3. Bernstein 632
4. Barber 541
5. Rodrigo 461 (and 103 of those are the Concierto de Aranjuez)
6. Messiaen 431
7. Walton 413
8. Khachaturian 357 (138 of those are the Sabre Dance)
9. Cage 279
10. Arvo Part 239

Clearly, Cage’s compositions, as well as his ideas, are very important in the classical music industry. This year you’ll be hearing a lot of his music, as various cities and organizations celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Cage’s birth. The John Cage trust is a useful web site to learn about upcoming performances, but if you live in Southern California, you’ll want to consult this list I compiled for the LA Weekly of Cage events this year.

3 Responses to “John Cage events in Los Angeles”
  1. Tony Renner says:

    Thanks for the links.

    I’m posting a number — ultimately 100 — works in tribute to John Cage on my blog. Take a look if you have time:

    http://tonyrenner.blogspot.com

    – Tony

  2. Herb Levy says:

    I’m confused here. You make a big deal out of how Cage has so many different compositions recorded, 278, but in the list you post, there are 279 recordings listed for Cage, one more than the number of recorded compositions.

    But the citations for other composers on the list include the fact that their total number includes many recordings of the same composition. Does the number of recordings of Cage’s music include the different recordings of several of his more popular works (like Sonatas and Interludes, String Quartet, etc) or not?

  3. Christian Hertzog says:

    Thanks for pointing out the confusion, Herb. I went back and scrutinized arkivmusic’s listings. I was misinterpreting the number after each composer’s name. The 279 means that there are 279 recordings which feature at least one work by John Cage on that recording. If you go to Cage’s page, you can see exactly how many recordings there are for each work of Cage. The Sonatas and Interludes appears on 17 different recordings; Dream on 16; and the Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs on 13.

    Some of those recordings could be a duplicate of the same performance in an anthology or a simultaneous DVD release. I’m not claiming this is a scientific survey. On the other hand, it does provide a sense of which composers receive many recordings, and the flourishing of Cage recordings and performances in the years after his death suggests that Cage and his music really were ahead of their time, and the industry is catching up to him.

    The other thing to consider in gauging a composer’s success with performers and artistic directors is the number of concert performances the composer receives. In the 16 years or so of San Diego New Music’s existence, Cage has turned out to be one of the most frequently performed composers over the years, up there with Crumb and Carter and the composers the NOISE ensemble has collaborated with: Christopher Adler, Christopher Burns, Matthew Burtner.

    I can’t tell you how many times I heard professors say, “Cage’s ideas are more important than his music” (or had other composers tell me that their teachers told them the exact same thing). I was just trying to illustrate, in concrete terms, that those professors were completely wrong. I strongly believe that the music of John Cage is extremely important in the history of classical music, it’s here to stay, and as more performers become familiar with his notation and performance practice, it will continue to receive more recordings and concert performances.

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