Obituary: John Cage
Wednesday 02 September 1992
Cage's music and ideas - the latter often said to be more important and interesting than his actual compositions - have influenced even more people than the articles indicated: many composers certainly, but perhaps even more crucially other kinds of artists, and many individuals simply in their daily lives and in their approach to the whole relationship between 'life' and 'art'. Cage has surely reached, and profoundly affected, more people outside the musical world as such than any other composer in history, and he undoubtedly achieved this in part by virtue of his winning personality - including that unusually infectious laugh.
But now his music itself remains; and while it can and should be accompanied by a reading of some of the voluminous literature on and by its composer, it must continue to be heard - in live performances, not recordings, which are arguably a nonsense in his case. When one can enjoy the music in something of the way Cage apparently did himself, there is indeed much to enjoy. When one becomes bored or inattentive, as sometimes happens, there is much to be learnt from asking the reasons. For Cage - as he told me, and many others time and again, I suspect - chance or indeterminacy were only means to an end. The resulting paradox of an intentional 'non-intention', which lay at the heart of his philosophy, can only really be appreciated by listening to his music.
Even those of us who thought we had learnt the lessons Cage had to teach could be shamed. Arriving in Zagreb a few years ago while a performance of one of the composer's typical 'event' pieces was taking place in informal conditions, I chanced on the composer in mid-walkabout. But my greeting was met only with frosty silence. Later he apologised for appearing to be rude; but, he said, he'd been listening to the music.
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