Freeman Études

Categories: Strumentale
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 10 January 2010

John Cage, Freeman Études for solo violin (1977). A piece whose form is due to a set of misunderstanding.

In 1977 Cage was approached by Betty Freeman, who asked him to compose a set of etudes for violinist Paul Zukofsky (who would, at around the same time, also help Cage with work on the violin transcription of Cheap Imitation). Cage decided to model the work on his earlier set of etudes for piano, Études Australes. That work was a set of 32 etudes, 4 books of 8 études each, and composed using controlled chance by means of star charts and, as was usual for Cage, the I Ching. Zukofsky asked Cage for music that would be notated in a conventional manner, which he assumed Cage was returning to in Études Australes, and as precise as possible. Cage understood the request literally and proceeded to create compositions which would have so many details that it would be almost impossible to perform them.

In 1980 Cage abandoned the cycle, partly because Zukofsky attested that the pieces were unplayable. The first seventeen études were completed, though, and Books I and II (Études 1-16) were published and performed (the first performance of Books I and II was done by János Négyesy in 1984 in Turin, Italy). Violinist Irvine Arditti expressed an interest in the work and, by summer 1988, was able to perform it at an even faster tempo than indicated in the score, thus proving that the music was, in fact playable. Arditti continued to practice the études, aiming at an even faster speed, apparently misreading Cage’s indication in the score to play every measure in “as short a time-length as his virtuosity permits”, in which Cage simply meant that the duration is different for each performer. Inspired by the fact that the music was playable, Cage decided to complete the cycle, which he finally did in 1990 with the help of James Pritchett, who assisted the composer in reconstructing the method used to compose the works (which was required, because Cage himself forgot the details after 10 years of not working on the piece). The first complete performance of all Études (1-32) was given by Irvine Arditti in Zurich in June 1991. Négyesy also performed the last two books of the Etudes in the same year in Ferrara, Italy. [wikipedia]

  1. xenakisiano says:

    Personalmente non amo molto questo periodo di Cage, è molto concettuale e poco sostanzioso. L’idea di studi ineseguibili poi non era granchè originale. Molto meglio il Cage romantico o della musica aleatoria.


    p.s. Mauro, lo sa che ho trovato una sua bella foto con Doati e Tisato ne “Il calcolatore e la musica” di Tamburini?

  2. Mauro says:

    Ho il libro… Bei tempi, tanti anni fa…

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