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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution
(1968)

Yates, Peter
Book reviews: the question of "stasis",   pp. 333-343 PDF (8.4 MB)


Page 341

Tale. My Grove's is unaware of Stravinsky,
whose first public performance came
in 1907. Twenty years later, after
columns of enthusiasm for the staging,
dancing, acting, Downs wrote: "The
music by itself . . is virtually worthless,
but in biting, mordant humor and
grotesqueness, and the power to
make you laugh" etc . . "Stravinsky,
despite a complete lack of real
thematic invention, excels himself.
L'Histoire du Soldat appeared after
he had ceased to be creative as a
composer -strangely ceased, just as he
was conquering the world." Forty years
later I listened in awe to Stravinsky's
Requiem Canticles, written in his
85th year.
Salzman writes (p 259): "Whether or
not Cage can be considered as a
composer or as a creator of works of
art in the ordinary sense, (he has,
of course, done a great deal to
change that 'ordinary sense'), there is
no question that he has been the
most influential personality in the
avant-garde arts since the war."
The truth is, Cage prefers to "compose"
everything he does in public appearance,
as he told me when I took him in 1963
to lecture, without preparation, for
Sister Magdalen Mary's Art Department
at Immaculate Heart College in
Los Angeles, the source of Sister Corita.
He talked freely for more than an hour
and a half, as lucid and complete
an exposition of his ideas as any he
has written. I have the talk on tape.
The basement room was stuffed with
people, on creaking chairs, tables,
the windows open to voices and
traffic, a sonic background that,
recorded through a directional mike
following his pacing, musically swells
and recedes.
The estimate of Cage as an uncreative
non-composer who functions in some
mysterious way to stimulate successive
generations of artists and composers,
whose influence has not weakened
under a critical attack comparable to
that directed against Schoenberg
until his death, has given way exactly
where one might have expected
the most resistance, in the popular
prints. Newsweek, December 25, 1967:
"For nearly three decades, John Cage
has been the most fertile, influential
and controversial composer of the
avant garde." In Look, January 9, 1968,
Richard Kostelanetz, youthful editor of
The New American Arts, fired a salvo in
praise of Cage, The Mothers of
Invention, the Jefferson Airplane, the
Beatles, and the younger post-Cage
composers, LaMonte Young and
Terry Riley. As a matter of fact, Cage
has had the knack of being newsworthy
since his first percussion concerts
around San Francisco in the later
1930s. He has also been, over thirty
years, a more productive composer than
most of his well-known contemporaries.
His complete list of compositions
is currently available from a single
publisher. Because he saw the
future of music clearly - witness
The Future of Music: Credo, written
in 1937, in his first collection of
writings and lectures, Silence (Wesleyan
University Press, 1961) - he has
remained consistently ahead of the
creative pack, which bays at him for
each new act of creative leadership
and eventually follows him. Many persons
who can't bear Cage's music read his
writings with delight, as poetry,
prophecy, philosophy, fun. Robert
Craft wrote me: "Stravinsky is the one
man I know who has read every
word of Silence."
One might think that Cage would
be above sniping at his chief recent
predecessors, especially those to whom
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