No Ear for Music

Richard Taruskin

in The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays

Published by University of California Press

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780520249776
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520942790 | DOI:
No Ear for Music

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This chapter focuses on the achievements of American composer John Cage, and reasons for his notoriety and being famous. People often wrote him off as a jester, with his homemade instruments, his anarchic happenings and “musicircuses,” his pieces for radios, his music-generating games of chance, his New Age orientalism, and his inscrutable droning lectures. The chapter discusses Cage's work including Cheap Imitation, 4'33”, Music of Changes, tape music Williams Mix, and the book Silence. Cage and composer Milton Babbitt are often viewed as antipodean figures, but they jointly embodied what may be called the “research” model of composerly behavior, a characteristic of midcentury modernism. Cage can be ranked as a major twentieth-century keyboard composer. Many of his keyboard compositions can be mastered by amateurs, and most of them are disarmingly “communicative.”

Keywords: John Cage; 4'33”; Music of Changes; Cheap Imitation; Silence; Milton Babbitt; American composers

Chapter.  8969 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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