Essential Music, John Cage: The Number Pieces 6

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 10.09.11 in Reviews

Late in life, Cage took to writing a large catalog of “number” pieces. (“Five,” for example, is for “any five voices or instruments.”) The numbers also apply to “time brackets” during which musicians are given the option of playing; over the span of longer “number” pieces, a listener has the sense of a compositional hand guiding things (something must be telling the musicians when to start and stop playing!), but at such a subtle remove as to be almost imperceptible. At a half hour in length, “Thirteen” – for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, two violins, viola, cello and two xylophones – is just that kind of experience. Calm but serious-feeling, it’s Cage reaching out to a concept of infinity. It’s also a fine opportunity to hear what Cage sounds like when played by a properly-sized chamber ensemble.