“In Order to Thicken the Plot”: Toward a Critical Reception of Cage's Music

David W. Bernstein

in Writings through John Cage's Music, Poetry, and Art

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2001 | ISBN: 9780226044071
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226044873 | DOI:
“In Order to Thicken the Plot”: Toward a Critical Reception of Cage's Music

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This chapter places Cage within a broad historical context and examines his relationships to developments in twentieth-century culture and musical style. Cage's ties to twentieth-century modernism are explored, and the chapter claims that this retrospective view may facilitate a critical appraisal of his music and thought. Toward the end of 1960, Cage paid increasing attention to the relation between art and political and social structures. In composing the First Construction, as in his twelve-tone works written during the period from 1935–1938, Cage began with a collection of motivic groups, or cells. Cage's concept of musical form was revolutionary, but the radical results of his compositional processes were achieved through more conventional means, namely, through modernist precision, with its systematic attention to detail and control of the materials used in composition. Thus, through his redefinition of musical form, Cage created works modeling desirable political and social structures.

Keywords: Cage; culture; musical style; music; art; compositional processes

Chapter.  10217 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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