What is meant by structure in music? Does all music have structure? Part 3

What is meant by structure in music? Does all music have structure? Does all music have form? (With particular reference to John Cage’s pieces). Part 3

It is worth noting that Cage defines ‘the form’ completely differently. ‘The form’, in the traditional music theory, was conceived as a whole divided into parts. In Cage’s music this fragmentation is called ‘structure’, while ‘the form’ refers to ‘the underlying conception of a work and its overall morphology’[1]. Undoubtedly, this definition of the form was adopted by Cage from Arnold Schoenberg, who perceived ‘form’ not as the schemes such as fugues and sonatas, but as the ability to draw consequence from a musical thought[2].

Have you been working on one Cage's piano pieces and need some guidance? Edyta Lajdorf - concert pianist and teacher - is available for piano lessons London.

A a very important role in Music of Changes is played by the silence that lasts half of the composition and is reflected in the space-time notation. This silence should not be understood as the absence of sound, but taken as a form of music because ‘Silence is music too’. In a result, it is not the changes of the musical character, but the silence that splits the form. Speaking of silence, it is worth mentioning another, probably the most popular piece by John Cage - 4'33 from 1952. It can be performed by any instrument or group of musicians. This piece is created by the environmental sounds that the listeners hear during the performance. However, it is commonly regarded as ‘four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence’[3]. This composition is treated ironically as a three-part composition. It is difficult to say what this tripartite means. Perhaps this division is determined by what happens on the stage: entrance, stillness and leaving of the performer. On the other hand, this form can be created by the behavior of the audience: waiting, impatience, and finally loud denial of the piece. Regardless of how we approach this issue, 4'33 is an example of extremism in terms of sound material and form.

Another example of ‘the open form’ is a composed, or rather sketched Concerto for piano and orchestra from  1958. This piece does not have a full manuscript. There are only individual parts and the players are expected to choose any number of the pages they wish.  During the performance, it is  also possible to freely leave the voices, change the instrumental composition, perform each voice as a solo piece. Musicians can play with or without a conductor determining the length and musical material of the composition. The burden of Concerto for piano and orchestra is a negation of all the music connections, including the form in the traditional meaning.

[1] J. Cage, Silence, Composition as Process, (Connecticut, 1962), 18

[2] J. Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings, (Connecticut, 1973), 260

[3] W. Fetterman, John Cage's Theatre Pieces: Notations and Performances. (Amsterdam, 1996), 69

Edyta Lajdorf BMus (Hons) RCM, MMus, LRSM (Teaching), SMISM

If you are interested in piano lessons London, please send me a message or visit my website.

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