Claudio Crismani, John Cage: Etudes Australes

George Grella

By George Grella

on 08.13.11 in Reviews
Applying intelligence and imagination to the seemingly impossible

A conception, and work, of forbidding and astonishing beauty. The idea and procedure for the piece came from process that was a consistent feature of Cage’s career and artistic development; take a previously successful method and adapt it to both a new limit (or discipline) and a new goal. Like Atlas Eclipticalis, the Etudes use star charts as a means to select notes, then the I Ching to determine which to transfer to the right and left hands of a pianist. Inspired by the skill and intelligence of his friend, Grete Sultan, Cage structured the music as a set of duets between the two hands, working independently and across each other rather than through the standard concept of lead hand and accompaniment. The result, a piece that was at the extreme edge of what could possibly be performed, was exactly what Cage desired. He wanted music that was impossible to play in normal terms but that, with the application of intelligence and imagination (in this case the development of technique that is so specific it even determines a particular way to sit at the piano), could indeed be played. And indeed it has been played, challenging the notion of possibility.