cp2 recordings JOHN CAGE

PAUL ZUKOFSKY, conductor




In the early 1950's John Cage began to turn his attention toward a new compositional domain. Previously, writing music for percussion and for prepared piano, Cage had concentrated on devising an aesthetic which would accommodate noises and silences as well as pitches. He had divided composition into four components: "structure," which concerned "the division of a whole into parts"; "materials," which were "the sounds and silences" of a composition; "method," which regulated the note-by-note choice of sounds; and "form," which reflected the underlying conception of a work, its overall morphology.1

At first Cage was much preoccupied with "structure" and "materials." He used a "square-root" principle to regulate "structure": a piece was divided into a number of units which were grouped into sections, and then each unit was divided into the same number of subunits grouped the same way. The "materials" of a piece were similarly limited-to a collection of percussion instruments, for example, or a group of preselected piano preparations. But although "materials" and "structure" were rather tightly controlled, "method" and "form" were essentially intuitive; they were guided not by a discipline but by Cage's personality.

At the same time Cage was composing for dance, and when he and Merce Cunningham began collaborating regularly in the mid-1940's, they agreed to structure the dance and music together, in advance. Cunningham later recalled that "this use of a time structure allowed us to work separately, Cage not having to be with the dance except at structural points, and I was free to make the phrases and movements within the phrases vary their speeds and accents without reference to a musical beat, again only using the structural points as identification between us."2

The 16 Dances, first performed on 21 January 1951, were the most ambitious choreographic work to use this structural technique. In scope and content they recalled Cage's musical Sonatas and Interludes (1946-1948): but the 16 Dances also anticipated techniques to come, as Cunningham has explained:

The 16 Dances . . . was a long piece intended to fill an evening. It was also the first time the use of chance operations entered into the compositional method. The choreography was concerned with expressive behavior, in this case the nine permanent emotions of Indian classical aesthetics, four light and four dark with tranquility the ninth and pervading one. The structure for the piece was to have each of the dances involved with a specific emotion followed by an interlude. Although the order was to alternate light and dark, it didn't seem to matter whether Sorrow or Fear came first, so I tossed a coin. And also in the interlude after Fear, number XIV, I used charts of separated movements for material for each of the four dancers, and let chance operations decide the continuity.3

Cunningham's choices yielded the following form for the Dances:
Except for the penultimate interlude (no. XII), which is somewhat eccentric, the structure of each movement is straightforward: the first contains 7 sections of 7 measures each; the third, 9 of 9; and so forth. These sections, however, can be clearly discerned only in movements IV, VIII, XII, and XVI. In these, as in Cage's earlier compositions, the "method" was largely intuitive and expressive, with motivic repetition and variation used to mark structural units.

In the other movements, however, Cage used a different "method," which in its effects anticipated chance techniques. Before beginning, Cage chose a gamut of 64 sounds and short gestures, which he arranged in an 8x8 chart, with each square containing a single event. To increase diversity, Cage altered his "materials" as he worked; after each pair of dances he replaced eight elements on his chart with new ones.

These gamuts served somewhat like a prepared piano; but instead of composing with them intuitively, Cage used systematic moves on the chart akin to the moves of pieces on a chessboard. Thus the overall sequence would be unpredictable, although events located near each other on the chart would tend to occur together, producing some recurring patterns. And because the "method" would be applied consistently throughout each movement, the sections would no longer be differentiated; the movements composed this way would be heard as a single continuity.

However, the Dances contained two sorts of choreography; and although Cage's new "method" suited the abstract interludes, the expressionistic solos required something different. For these Cage limited his "material" to the sounds which he judged best suited the subject; in addition, he altered density, dynamics, and other details as needed. Thus movement III, for example, expresses "humor" by means of extreme dynamic and timbral contrasts; while movement IX, the "odious," is pervaded by finicky ostinati.

The structure of the 16 Dances also reflects Cage's increasing concern with social issues: the individualistic expressionism of the solos is contrasted with the collective consistency of the ensembles. And just as the individual and the collective are reconciled in the dance's closing quartet, in which an emotion ("tranquility") is, for the only time, expressed by the full ensemble, so too are the compositional techniques ultimately integrated: in the final movement a tranquil ostinato, composed intuitively, is overlaid with an everchanging sequence of sounds derived from the charts.

Together with the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra, the 16 Dances mark the beginning of both Cage's exploration of social questions in music and his use of chance techniques. Shortly after their completion, Cage explained privately that "by making moves on the charts I freed myself from what I had thought to be freedom, [but] which was only [the] accretion of habits and taste."4 The paradox at the heart of this sentence-that in discipline alone is there freedom-has remained the core of Cage's practice ever since.

William Brooks

1 John Cage, "Composition as Process," in Silence (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1962), p. 18.
2 Merce Cunningham, "A Collaborative Process Between Music and Dance," in A John Cage Reader, ed. Peter Gena and Jonathan Brent (New York: C. F. Peters Corporation, 1982), p. 108.
3 Cunningham, "A Collaborative Process. . . ," pp. 109-110.
4 Letter to Pierre Boulez, 1952.

Performers: Robert Aitken, flute; Otto Armin, violin; Peter Schenkman, cello; James Spragg, trumpet; Marc Widner, piano; Members of THE NEXUS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE: Robert Becker, Robin Engelman, Russell Hartenberger and John Wyre; Paul Zukofsky, guest conductor


Armin Loos was born in Darmstadt in 1904 and died in 1971. A small folder prepared by his widow after his death begins with the following statement:

The facts below can only indicate some of the outward circumstances in the life of Armin Loos; perhaps define his milieu and give his place in time. That is all.

He showed a unique talent for music very early in life, and soon went far beyond the conventional music lessons given him. At twelve years of age he made himself familiar with the piano works of most of the old and new masters by sight-reading their music, and also learned to read opera and orchestra scores. At one time he took lessons with composer Carl Buettner with whom he studied counterpoint, harmony, and form. In this area to, with characteristic intellectual and musical probing, and his own great musical talent, he went beyond his instruction to compose piano scores of his own. This he did very competently at the age of fourteen.

Despite a strong desire to continue with his music, his father made plans for him to prepare for a career in banking and, as a result, all of his college training was directed toward that end. Thus, he received a degree in jurisprudence from the University of Dresden, and subsequently pursued this subject at the Universities of Berlin and Geneva, where, without a doubt, the courses he took in music history, German and French literature were more sympathetic to him.

After a year's travel in Europe, Armin came to the United States in 1928 to complete his bank training before returning to Dresden to enter his father's bank. He never went back to Germany, however, having once made the momentous decision to marry and remain in New York City. But the Depression soon shattered his plans to earn a living in the field of music. Nonetheless, those years in New York were spent studying his craft, composing, and working constantly to master the 12-tone system, a most difficult discipline, especially since he was entirely self-taught.

It was at this time in his life in New York that his "Elegy in Five Voices" won second prize in the 1938 Federal Music Project Competition, in which first prize went to William Schuman and third prize to David Diamond, [fourth to John Vincent, fifth to Elliott Carter]. "Elegy" was performed in concert and on radio by the Madrigal Singers and later by the Festival Chorus of the Westminster Choir School in Princeton, New Jersey.

In 1940, Armin's sense of duty took him to New Britain, Connecticut, where he was associated in a small family business for twenty-two years. Even so, after his day's work, his nights and most of his spare time were devoted to composing. As he said many times, "I can't sleep unless I work on my music."

He had to retire from business in 1962 following his first major heart attack and so was then able to devote full time to his music.

It was in the last years of his life that his illness imposed an increasing sense of urgency that reached into everything he did. He always had wide intellectual interests but now more than ever he came to be ever more concerned with the "human condition," and it was this inner probing that added a new dimension to him as an individual and as an artist. At last he had the "know-how" in the truest sense, and could and did consumate it in the content and style of the music he created...

If Armin Loos were asked to give a summary of his life, he would have answered, "My music is my life."

Elizabeth Loos

His body of unjustly neglected works includes twelve orchestral compositions; four string quartets; two violin sonatas; other chamber music with strings; three pieces for horn and piano; two wind quintets; eleven piano pieces; and some vocal music; as well as many unfinished manuscripts and sketches. Sonata No. 2 was written in 1971 and was the last work that he completed. He was one of the first composers in America to adapt the 12-tone method, and this composition uses this technique. This recording may very well be the first of any of his compositions. Upon her death in 1993, Mrs. Loos bequeathed to Musical Observations, Inc. all of the copyrights in and to the music of Armin Loos.




1. I (1:43)
2. II (4:50)
3. III (2:17)
4. IV (2:52)
5. V (2:29)
6. VI (2:19)
7. VII (3:06)
8. VIII (3:36)
9. IX (3:15)
10. X (2:25)
11. XI (2:41)
12. XII (2:19)
13. XIII (1:42)
14. XIV (6:29)
15. XV (4:51)
16. XVI (5:49)

Time = 52:38

A co-production with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation / Société Radio-Canada and NEW MUSIC CONCERTS, Toronto.


17. Largo (5:11)
18. Vivace (6:10)
19. Larghissimo espressivo (3:22)

Time = 14:48 DDD

TOTAL TIME = 67:28

John Cage: (1912-1992) SIXTEEN DANCES
Publisher: C.F. Peters Corporation
Recorded at Walter Hall, University of Toronto, Canada, January 31, 1982.
Producer: David Jaeger
Recording Engineer: Kenneth Barnes
Editor: Joanna Nickrenz (Elite Productions)
Mastering: Robert C. Ludwig (Masterdisk Corp.)

This recording was originally released as an LP (CP2/15) and was a co-production with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation / Sociètè Radio-Canada and NEW MUSIC CONCERTS, Toronto.

Library of Congress Card Catalog No. 84-743251
1984 Musical Observations, Inc.

The original release 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.

Armin Loos: (1904-1971) SONATA NO. 2
Copyright: Musical Observations, Inc.
Recorded March 1, 1995 at Master Sound Astoria, Astoria, NY
Produced and engineered by Paul Zinman
Assistant engineer: David Merrill
Hamburg Steinway provided by Mary Schwendeman Concert Service

© 2004 Musical Observations, Inc.
Warning: Copyright subsists in all recordings issued under this label.