John Cage. 4'33" (In Proportional Notation). 1952/1953

John Cage 4'33" (In Proportional Notation) 1952/1953

  • Not on view

4'33" (In Proportional Notation) is one of three versions of the score for Cage’s “silent piece,” a musical composition first performed by the pianist David Tudor in Woodstock, New York, in 1952. While the lost original score used conventional musical notation to signify three periods of silence, this version is composed of a series of vertical lines that visually represent the duration of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence.

During the piece’s premiere, Tudor sat quietly at his piano, opening and closing the keyboard lid to mark the progression of the three movements. The audience waited in anticipation of the performance, but their expectations of a conventional concert were shattered. Cage recounted, “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” Cage saw silence as a way to attune audiences to the soundtrack of everyday life, to bring them to consider all the sounds around them as music, thus undoing the idea of a hierarchy of sound, opening up the infinite possibilities of ambient sound, and rethinking the very notion of what music is. As a piece of music that cannot be controlled by the composer and which is necessarily different every time it is performed, 4'33" also exemplifies Cage’s interest in using chance as a compositional strategy.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

4’33” (In Proportional Notation) is the earliest surviving score for Cage’s “silent piece,” first performed by the pianist David Tudor in Woodstock, New York, on August 29, 1952. Whereas the lost original score used conventional musical notation to signify three periods of silence, this score is composed of a series of vertical lines. The duration of the three movements corresponds to the distance between the lines, equating spatial and temporal measurements. During the premiere, Tudor sat quietly at his piano, opening and closing the keyboard lid to mark the progression of the three movements. The audience waited in anticipation of the performance: their expectations of a conventional concert were shattered, but music was made. Cage recounted, “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” Cage saw silence as a way to plug the audience into the sound track of everyday life, to open them up to the infinite possibilities of ambient sound. Cage dedicated 4’33” (In Proportional Notation), the second iteration of his “silent” piece, to his friend Irwin Kremen and gave it to him on his twenty–eighth birthday, in 1953.

Gallery label from There Will Never Be Silence: Scoring John Cage’s 4’33”, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014.
Medium
Ink on paper
Dimensions
page (each): 11 x 8 1/2" (27.9 x 21.6 cm); sheet (each, unfolded): 11 x 16 15/16" (27.9 x 43.1 cm)
Edition
unique
Credit
Acquired through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis
Object number
1636.2012
Copyright
© 2019 John Cage Trust
Department
Drawings and Prints

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