Cage, John | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Cage, John

Historical Note: John Cage (1912-1992) was a renown composer and one of the leading figures of the American avant-garde movement in the latter half of the 20th century. During the early stages of his career, Cage studied with experimental composers Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg. Cage was most well-known for his innovative approaches to composition, particularly his use of chance operations in pieces such as Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951), Music of Changes (1951), and his best-known and most controversial piece, 4'33" (1952), during which the performer is instructed to tacet for the entire duration of the piece. According to Cage, the musical material of 4'33" is meant to consist of the ambient sounds of the performance space. In 1969, Cage, alongside fellow avant-garde composer Lejaren Hiller, premiered HPSCHD, a piece for harpsichord and computer-generated sounds, at the Experimental Music Studios at the University of Illinois. During the performance, audience members were encouraged to move about the performance space, and to come and go as they pleased. Throughout the 1960s and onward, Cage developed "happenings" along with his student Allan Kaprow, which were unplanned theatrical events meant to integrate art into every-day life and erase the boundaries typically created between audience and performer in conventionally staged works. These happenings precipitated the Fluxus movement. Cage's influence also extended into the realm of modern dance through his work with Merce Cunningham, who was Cage's life partner. Despite worsening health throughout the late 70s and 1980s, Cage continued to compose until his death in 1992. His compositional philosophy remains one of the most seminal challenges to assumed definitions of music and musicianship in the 20th century.

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