John Cage

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About John Cage

In the 20th century, few people have changed music and the way we think about it like John Cage has, whether it’s highlighting the way sound is always around us with his legendary “silent” piece 4’33” (1952) or embracing the possibilities of chance in performance. Born in Los Angeles in 1912, Cage enrolled at Pomona College as a theology major in 1928 but dropped out two years later, convinced that the institution was poorly run. He spent 18 months traveling across Europe, writing his first compositions while visiting the Spanish island of Majorca. Cage returned to the U.S. in 1931, later studying with Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who had fled the Nazis in 1933. Much of Cage’s early music was for percussion, and he began working with choreographers, including his future life partner, Merce Cunningham. He started teaching at Mills College in 1938, where he experimented with electronics and prepared piano. He settled in New York in 1942, where he completed his landmark Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano in 1948. By then Cage had become interested in Zen Buddhism, which opened up his devotion to chance procedures, partly to remove the ego of the composer and performer, and partly to allow the space or conditions where a performance is happening to influence the outcome. He continued writing music and sharing ideas right up to his death in 1992 at age 79.

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