John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes

John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes remind me of Charles Ives’ Putnam’s Camp, an apparent dissonant mess that is in fact a carefully organized piano piece. As such I treat it more as an intricate work of art that I don’t understand rather than consumable entertainment. While I can’t say that I enjoy this type of music I can certainly admire the creative spirit that went into the set.

Sonatas and Interludes is a 20-piece set broken down into 16 sonatas and 4 interludes. The aim was to demonstrate the 8 emotions of the Indian rasa tradition; in fact Cage was inspired by his introduction to Indian philosophy and music. Most of the sonatas follow the AABB form, like classical sonatas, and a specific subdivision named nested proportions: “an arbitrary sequence of numbers defines the structure of a piece on both the macroscopic and microscopic level, so that the larger parts of each piece are in the same relation to the whole as the smaller parts are to a single unit of it.” This explains the apparent randomness of note spacing in his sonatas. One striking feature is that his compositions are very clean and each note is very important, reflecting the avant-gardism of his musical expertise.

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