Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cage's Bacchanale and Prepared Piano

This month, Clef Notes has looked at a variety of music set to dance. Let’s wrap things up with something a bit different than what we’ve seen so far.

You may remember my previous blog post on John Cage (1912–1992), an avant-garde and experimental composer of the twentieth century. He was known to use sounds and ideas that had not previously been used in music. One concept he became known for was the prepared piano. A prepared piano is the insertion of objects (pennies, bolts, wood, plastic, etc.) in between piano strings. The result is a percussive effect that creates various sounds, depending on the objects inserted, when the pianist plays from the keyboard. The piano is prepared in advance of the performance with detailed instructions provided within the score for which objects should be placed between which strings.

Prepared Piano
Courtesy of
Cage’s Bacchanale was his first work written for prepared piano. He created it for dancer Syvilla Fort in 1938. Originally, he wanted to accompany her dance with percussion, but opted for the prepared piano concept because he was unable to use many instruments. You can watch this modern dance and piano performance below. Do you think the piano and dancers balance each other or does one seems to hold greater importance over the other?

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