cp2 recordings JOHN CAGE



The Chorals are an arrangement for violin of one of the Solos for Voice in Songbooks following Paul Zukofsky's suggestion to make a continuous music of disparate elements, single tones, unisons, and beatings. The Solo in Songbooks had been composed by placing a transparent staff of a special design over nine of Erik Satie's posthumously published Douze Chorales. The design of the staff was such as to give equal space for each chromatic tone. Thus its five lines were not equidistant, those representing a minor third being closer together than those representing a major third. "Rubbings" were made. When notes were not in the proper position for naturals, flats, or sharps, they were microtonally between these. For the Chorals the staff is again conventional, and accidentals, flat flats, sharp sharps, sharp flats, flat sharps, flat and sharp naturals are used. Which are single tones, which unisons, and which beatings, was determined by means of I Ching chance operations.


Cheap Imitation for piano solo was written in December 1969 to take the place of the Socrate of Erik Satie as an accompaniment for Second Hand by Merce Cunningham, the right to arrange the Socrate for two pianos having been refused by the French copyright holder. Becoming attached to the imitation as I had for many years been attached to the original, I arranged it for an orchestra of any size between the minimum of twenty-four and the maximum of ninety-five. In 1975 Paul Zukofsky, encouraged by my use in the Etudes Australes of not graphic but relatively conventional notation, asked whether I would consider making a similar work for the violin. I am now engaged in that work. But in order to do it, I study under Zukofsky's patient tutelage, not how to play the violin, but how to become even more baffled by its almost unlimited flexibility. Cheap Imitation for violin solo is one of the results of this study. I wrote the notes. The editing is Zukofsky's, though he did it in my presence and often asked me which of several possibilities I preferred. The bowing in the third movement was I Ching chance determined. The three movements of the Socrate are Portrait of Socrates, On the Banks of the Ilissus, and Death of Socrates.

The following information regarding the compositional means of Cheap Imitation appeared with the version for piano solo. The I Ching (64 related to 7, to 12, etc.) was used to answer the following questions for each phrase (with respect to the melodic line and sometimes the line of accompaniment) of Erik Satie's Socrate:

  1. Which of the seven "white note" modes is to be used?

  2. Beginning on which of the twelve chromatic notes? Then, in I (for each note excepting repeated notes):

  3. Which note of given transposition is to be used? In II and III original interval relations were kept for one-half measure, sometimes (opening measures and subsequent appearances) for one measure.

The intonation for the violin is Pythagorean following the definition of this system by Hermann Helmholtz (On the Sensations of Tone, Dover Publications, N.Y., p. 312). Rather than making the Pythagorean comma 24 cents precisely, the violinist should sometimes increase it, even to 40 cents, in order to distinguish tones from one another. The violinist should follow the rule of playing non vibrato but not too strictly. Dotted slurs are phrases, but, unless there is a filled-in slur, every note is to be bowed separately. Asterisks associated with high tones indicate a particularized, even dramatic, pianissimo. Commas associated with filled-in slurs indicated portato, a close togetherness of clearly articulated tones, what might be termed a paradoxical legato or a "philosophical" détaché [reprinted from the preface to the violin solo edition of Cheap Imitation].


When Paul Zukofsky in 1975 asked me to write a work for the violin comparable to the Etudes Australes for piano which I had just finished, a work derived from star maps of the southern sky, using relatively traditional notation, I agreed providing he would answer all my questions. I do not play the violin. And I wanted to subject as many of its possibilities as I could envisage to chance operations to bring about a music suitable for an extraordinary virtuoso, and at the same time a music which I had not heard before. I wanted to move toward the impossible in order to show that the impossible is possible. This is relevant, it seems to me, to the present world situation. In preparation for the Etudes, Zukofsky and I worked closely together to make the violin version of Cheap Imitation. After telling the story of that collaboration in an article entitled "John Cage's Recent Violin Music" (A John Cage Reader, C.F. Peters; originally published in TriQuarterly Magazine, spring 1982), Zukofsky continues with reference to the Etudes named the Freeman Etudes in honor of the lovely and generous woman who commissioned them:

Using star maps (as in the Etudes Australes) and superimposed transparent paper, John placed each event in a continuum of time after determining the respective density of each etude. I had agreed that a space = time notation would be acceptable although it presented perceptual problems. We solved these by running two time lines under each staff. The lower of these lines supported a series of tactae which divided each line into seven equal segments. Each segment was eventually assigned a nominal value of three seconds — therefore, each line equaled twenty-one seconds. Above this set of "bar-line" tactae was a second line with tactae indicating the exactly position of each event. Since the events were placed proportionately on the staff, this may seem redundant; nevertheless, it was quite useful since the perceived spacing between events (as opposed to tactae) is highly dependent on their nature and procession.

Having decided the temporal occurrences, general classifications of détaché vs. legato were specified for each event; single "pitch-classes" were assigned each event, and octave placements were determined. "Stringing" was then decided, and the question of whether these events were to be single notes or the basis of aggregates (intervals or chords of two to four notes each) was answered.

The pitches of all aggregates were determined by successive pitch-range restrictions which depended to a large degree on the order of string-choice. Aggregates were constructed over a series of phone calls in which John might begin by saying: "This is going to be a four-note aggregate. The first note occurs on the third string and it's an 'A' natural just above four ledger lines above the staff. What can you play on the first string (at the same time)?"

Since any of four fingers could stop the "A" natural on the third string, the possibilities on another string (in this case the first) usually were large and I would give John an available range. There would be as many questions as there were aggregates to solve. Aggregates of more than two notes would require follow-up calls—i.e., John might say, "The four-note aggregate which started with 'A' on the third string, now has (on the first string) a 'D natural' one note above the highest note of the piano (a note chosen from within the range I had given previously). The next note (to be decided) occurs on the fourth string. What can you play?"

Since the hand was now anchored with two pitches, the possibilities on the fourth string were more limited. Once again I would give John a range—sometimes large, sometimes very small and finally (in the case of four-note aggregates only) John would call back again saying that the four-note aggregate now consisted of the following pitches on the third, first, and fourth strings, and asking what I could still play on the second. As the work progressed, a catalog of these aggregates and aggregate-ranges began to exist. We hope to eventually publish the catalog, as it provides a fairly comprehensive guide to chordal possibilities on the violin.

Following aggregates, timbres, note repetitions, and microtones were chance-determined for all events. The timbres category consisted of normal, sul tasto, sul ponticello, harmonics and pizzicato. The note repetitions category consisted of successive marteles, ricochet, tremolo, vibrato, and beating. Microtones utilized the standard American notation for quarter tones, i.e. upward or downward pointing arrowheads attached to normal accidentals, but were not to be thought of as quarter tones (although in actuality some of them may be quarter tones). As John says, "When the apple is rotten, cutting it in half does not help." Rather, these microtones are pitches belonging to that large perceptual space where a pitch still maintains its name (i.e. a lowered C natural which is not so low that it will be heard as a sharp B natural).

Once having set this golem in motion Though the notation is determinate (Tell me, Zukofsky said, exactly what to do; I am like a surgeon; I will make the operation), the use of chance operations is not as an aid in the making of something I had in mind; rather, a utility to let sounds arise from their own centers freed from my intentions. I just listen. For this reason, also, the use of star maps; to aid in the finding of a music I do not have in mind. Therefore I question to use of the word golem*. we discovered that while every event was in and of itself completely playable, a quick succession of events was something else again, and in many instances was quite unplayable due to the constraints of time. Obviously something had to give, but what? Should time be expanded, and if so, expanded consistently throughout the whole piece, or just for the difficult section? Should stringing be changed, or timbre substitutions be made using harmonics, or should one consider deleting certain pitches? This was quite problematic because in essence we were stating a hierarchy of importance among time, stringing, timbre, and pitch.

John was extremely reluctant to change anything, and I kept insisting that certain things were impossible as they stood. The example of Merce Cunningham finally brought the two of us back together. In his use of chance to create dance, Merce had in many instances derived results that were physically impossible, and, as such, demanded compromise. We had essentially choreographed a ballet of the arms, and chance had given use some results that were physically impossible—therefore, we too had to compromise. The question then become: should the compromises be rigid and final, or constrained but allowing of evolution? I was most reluctant to create an absolutely final version since, as every violinist is aware, the fingerings and bowings that one uses throughout one's life evolve constantly as the mind and body change.

We finally agreed that the golem would operate, would produce results (some of which, because of the constraints of time, would be manifestly impossible) and that the individual violinist, when it became absolutely necessary, would make such changes as he or she saw fit, preserving the original and its intent to the greatest possible extent.

Since I have only learnt the first eight Etudes, I cannot say what the ultimate tempo of all the Etudes will be. It would be good to keep the same tempo of all thirty-two, but that may prove impossible. Small tempo deviations or rubati are of course acceptable, but a constant change of the basic tempo to accommodate difficult passages must be avoided at all costs; otherwise, one has the impression of everything happening at the same rate—all very easygoing and without contrast.

The Etudes are both fascinating and frustrating for many reasons. They are the most difficult music I have ever played, yet they are also extremely violinistic. They have endless phrasal possibilities, none of which were intentional in the creation. Some of Etudes are so complex that we may have to synthesize them, but the challenge of playing them live may be too great.

The Freeman Etudes XVII-XXXII are still in process. They are not only difficult to play; they are difficult to write. Work on them has been interrupted by other projects, works for orchestra, for the theatre, radio, etc. One of these was the Etudes Boreales for Cello (1978). These are four and they differ from the violin pieces by letting the chance operations also change the range within which the compositional process operates even within a single etude. The "Freeman Etudes," on the other hand, use the full range of the violin at all times.

Words in italics by John Cage, Roman by Paul Zukofsky

* N.B. Those readers interested in further discussion of golems may refer to Norbert Wiener's God and Golem, Inc. (MIT Press), as that is what I had in mind at the time (PZ).

1. CHORALS (5:59)
2. I. (7:13)
3. II. (7:44)
4.III. (21:21)
5.I. (4:00)
6.II. (3:47)
7.III. (4:02)
8.IV. (3:38)
9.VI. (4:34)
10.VI. (3:40)
11.VII. (4:03)
12.VIII. (3:58)
Time = 32:50
TOTAL TIME = 75:24

Notes for Chorals and Cheap Imitation by John Cage. Chorals, Cheap Imitation, and Freeman Etudes are published by C.F. Peters Corporation. Chorals and Cheap Imitation were recorded on February 23, 1979 at the RCA Studio A, New York City.

The original recording of the Freeman Etudes was supported in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts. The generous support of Betty Freeman is gratefully acknowledged.

Recording Engineer (Chorals and Cheap Imitation): Paul Goodman
Recording Engineer (Freeman Etudes): Robert C. Ludwig
Editor: Joanna Nickrenz (Elite Recordings, Inc.)

©1991 Musical Observations, Inc.
Warning: Copyright subsists in all recordings issued under this label.