These notes should be used alongside your notes from lessons, your anthology, and the relevant bits of the following books:
|Bowman and Terry:||A2 Music – A student’s guide (One Copy in the Music office)|
|John Cage:||For the Birds|
|Paul Griffiths:||Modern Music|
|James Pritchett:||The Music of John Cage|
These revision notes will give you a summary of some of the important information about the structure of the pieces and the ideas which underlie them. As you read the notes, make sure you have the anthology with you so you can look up the relevant points in the score. If possible, listen to a recording of the pieces to reinforce your awareness of the aural impression of details of the score.
166-7 of the Anthology reproduce Cage’s instructions on the preparation of the
piano. Some things to note:
The precision of the instructions – everything is fixed in advance by
The variety of materials used leads to variety of timbre (e.g. metal –
nasal, rubber – drum-like).
Some notes have just one object inserted, meaning that the original pitch
is still audible from the third string – some notes have two objects, giving
more of an unpitched sound
Very few bass notes are prepared – just the lowest 3 Ds
A small number of notes in the upper half of the piano’s range are also
left unprepared. As you listen to
the pieces, note where these come – some of them are significant.
to each Sonata carefully with the score, and make notes in as much detail as you
can about what sounds are prominent – try to describe them in ways you will
remember (e.g. ‘gong’, ‘bongo’, ‘bell’, etc).
later claimed that the Sonatas and Interludes were one of the few ‘directly
expressive’ works he had written (see For the Birds).
He never said exactly which Sonata was supposed to express which emotion,
by he did say that he was influenced by the Hindu aesthetic theory of Rasa,
which he learnt from the writer Coomaraswamy.
The main points of his theory are as follows:
There are nine ‘permanent emotional states’
Four of these are ‘light’: the erotic, the
heroic, the wondrous, and the comic
Four are dark: the odious, the furious, the
pathetic, and the terrible
The ninth, the tranquil, results when a state of
balance is achieved between all the others
The task of a work of art is to depict the nine
permanent emotional states in the correct balance to achieve tranquility
had taught Cage that music gained its structure from harmony (or tonality).
Cage rebelled against this and structured many of his works from the
1940s according to duration. (N.B.
he was not yet writing ‘Open’ works where the structure was indeterminate
– that came in the 1950s and afterwards).
durational structure of Sonatas and Interludes is rigidly predetermined and uses
nested proportions (sometimes described as ‘fractal structure’, or as
‘micro-macro rhythmic structure’). This
The number of semibreves in each phrase follows a fixed numerical
sequence. E.G. in Sonata No. 1 each
phrase follows the pattern 1 ¼, ¾, 1 ¼, ¾, 1 ½, 1 ½.
Each phrase has a double bar at the end in the score (to make it easier
to recognize where they come!)
The same numerical sequence determines the number of phrases in each
The repeats are an integral part of the structure.
Each sonata has a different numerical sequence.
No. 2’s is 1 ½, 1 ½, 2 3/8, 2 3/8.
No. 3’s is 1, 1, 3 ¼, 3 ¼. These
are arbitrary (i.e. Cage made them up off the top of his head – they don’t
seem to mean anything or come from anywhere).
Cage used this type of nested rhythmic structure in other pieces from the
1940s, but not in quite so complex a way – other pieces use whole numbers
rather than fractions.
sure you learn the numerical sequence governing the proportions of each sonata
– an accurate description of the rhythmic organization of a sonata will get
you at least two marks, provided it is relevant to the question!
points of interest concerning rhythm:
Cage, following Schoenberg, distinguished between ‘structure’ and
‘method’. For him,
‘Structure’ was determined prior to the act of composition.
In other words, he had to work out how the piece was broken up into
sections, and how long each section was to last.
For the Sonatas and Interludes, this is achieved precisely by the use of
nested proportions. ‘Method’ was the process of deciding what to put in the
structure – in other words, which note should go where.
Classical Indian music is based around recurring rhythmic cycles or Tala. Like Cage’s rhythms, these are often irregular. There is also a parallel with Cage in that rhythm is more important than harmony in determining structure.
Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes have little in common with the Western tradition
of the instrumental Sonata. The
term ‘Sonata’ originated in the 17th century and originally meant a piece
that was played, rather than one that was sung (a ‘Cantata’). Gradually, however, the term Sonata acquired other
connotations, especially that of a serious and substantial work in several
movements. It also became
associated with Classical Sonata Form, with its implications of structural logic
and drama derived from the treatment of keys and themes.
However, there are some limited parallels between Cage’s Sonatas and
earlier examples of the genre.
Some early 18th century composers (especially Domenico Scarlatti) wrote
single-movement Sonatas for keyboard, which were of moderate length and always
in binary form.
Cage’s avowed aim of expressing emotion fits with the
nineteenth-century (Romantic) view of the purpose of a Sonata, as well as the
Baroque period (the ‘Doctrine of the Affections’).
In some of Cage’s sonatas you can arguably detect some of the dramatic
changes of character or mood that are essential to classical sonata form, with
its contrast between themes and keys (e.g. very distinct characters of Bars 1-8,
9-12 and 13-18 of Sonata No. 1)
The complex rhythmic structures Cage uses give them an academic quality which might qualify them to belong to a structurally heav
variation was the phrase Schoenberg used to describe the unification of a
musical composition by taking a simple melodic idea and repeating it, with
change and modification throughout the piece.
In Schoenberg’s view, the more complex and subtle the process of
variation was, the more advanced was the composer.
Naturally, his own 12-note compositional techniques were the logical
conclusion and the most advanced manifestation of the techniques of Developing
Variation used in earlier music. We
might therefore expect Cage to avoid it, since it seems to be incompatible with
his own views of how music should be composed.
surprisingly, however, development of short melodic and rhythmic kernels seems
to be an important part of his ‘method’ in Sonatas 2 and 3, and can be
found, although less prominently in No. 1.
Here are a few illustrations of this, to look up in your score:
1. F# - F natural over G
major triad (repeated bar 3)
18-19. Retrograde of Bar 1
creates an effect of recapitulation
bars 2-3. 4-quaver motif
spanning a minor 3rd. Repeated
after crotchet rest
bar 21-2. Similar figure,
starts on middle note but still spans a minor 3rd with crotchet rest in
bars 24-6. Different
development but still based on the same figure
bar 4. Double acciaccatura
figure between E flat and C
Bar 11-12. E flat-C interval
prominent, although no grace notes this time
bar 15. E flat-C interval
starts off new section
bar 18-22. Repeated double
acciaccaturas between Eb and C
end bar 4-bar 5. Melody based
around C-E flat-G-A
bar 10-13. Melody uses the
same pitches, just adding an A flat at the end
bar 28. Semiquaver passage
uses a figure based around the same group of notes, but adding an F
bar 3 plus upbeat. Opening
motif starting with 4 demisemiquavers on anacrusis
bars 5-6 plus upbeat. Opening
motif repeated twice, but with minor rhythmic changes to the end, so it
fits differently with the repeated note in the bass
bar 17 plus upbeat. Uses
anacrusis demisemiquavers to introduce new phrase
bars 13-15. Crotchet melody
uses the same sequence of notes as opening motif,
changed slightly and slowed down (‘in augmentation’)
bars 22-4. As bars 13-15, but
with a few notes changed
bar 9. G#-C# interval starts
off new phrase, leading into chromatic idea
bar 17. Next phrase starts
with same idea.
bars 19-24. Chromatic idea is
developed into a longer melody, but returns to G#-C# to end
bar 25. Final phrase starts
as bar 9
bars 11-12. Octave idea.
bars 14-15. Repeats octave
idea at different pitch
Cage is known most widely for the views he expressed on music and chance.
To summarize briefly, with loads of oversimplifications:
There is no distinction between musical and non-musical sounds (see
The role of the composer is to allow the inherent musicality of sounds to
realize itself, and not to seek to impose an order on sounds – he wrote of
‘abolishing the composer’s ego’ – some hope!
The way to achieve this was by using a variety of random or chance
processes to determine the content and structure of a piece of music.
Some of these involved improvisation by the performers.
Others involved procedures using the I Ching, an ancient Chinese
Book of Changes.
Musical works should be ‘Open’ – in other words, the boundary
between the musical work and the world was not fixed; other sounds not conceived
of by the composer (e.g. ambient sounds, or the variables of a particular
performance) were a valid part of it; and every performance was potentially
radically different from every other.
important thing to remember is that these ideas developed mainly after Sonatas
and Interludes was written, and are connected more to Zen Buddhism (in which
Cage was very interested in the 1950s and afterwards) than to Hinduism and Rasa.
Cage arguably leaves very little to chance in Sonatas and Interludes,
and they fit a traditional definition of what a piece of music is.
emphasis on silence (or at least on very quiet passages) is one respect in which
there is a connection with Cage’s Zen-Buddhist-influenced work from the 1950s.
Past paper questions
Unfortunately there is only one past paper for this exam, which is the one you had as your mock. In addition, Edexcel have published some specimen exam questions, which you can find here (warning - big PDF file download).