John Cage's Song Books online for a week!

Publikováno: 4.12.2020

Later today we are going to release a video on our YouTube channel of a performance of Song Books I, II by John Cage from the NODO 2018 festival. Song Books, written in 1970, is one of John Cage's major compositions. This performance took place on the opera stage of the Antonín Dvořák Theater in Ostrava, staged by Petr Kotík, a long-time collaborator of John Cage. The 90-minute performance was filmed by director Adam Ol’ha, and provides a unique look into the details of the performance and the individual performances of the nine soloists as well as players from Ostravská banda. Petr Kotík became acquainted with this composition during several performances in which he collaborated directly with the Cage in the 1970s and 1980s – this is therefore a unique opportunity for viewers to experience the variety and unpredictability of this musical theater as Cage imagined it. 

The video will be available at 6:00 PM CET here >>>


June 28, 2018
20:30 | Antonín Dvořák Theatre
John Cage: SONG BOOKS (1970) / czech premiere

Set of open works; version for 10 voices and electronics

Music: John Cage 
Texts: Henry David Thoreau, Norman O. Brown, Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, Marshall McLuhan, among others

Musical direction: Petr Kotík


S.E.M. Ensemble /
Christina Kay, soprano
Nathan Repasz, electronics
Petr Kotík, voice
Alexander Dobson, baritone
Conrad Harris, violin
Pauline Kim Harris, violin
William Lang, trombone

Guest performers /
Veronika Holbová, soprano
Eva Marie Gieslová, soprano
Aneta Podracká Bendová, soprano
Vojtěch Šembera, baritone
Daniel Havel, flute
Irvin Venyš, clarinet
Irene Serrahima Violant, violin
Anna Kellerová, contrabass
Adam Druga, percussion

Song Books was composer for and dedicated to Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist (curiously, both singers had very prominent personalities as partners: Cathy Berberian was married to Luciano Berio from 1950 to 1964, while Simone Rist was Josef Anton Riedl’s wife). Like many of Cage’s compositions of that time, Song Booksconsists of a series of solos that can be combined into ensemble performances (it initially was performed as a Berberian/Rist duo). The score – 92 solos in two volumes for a total of 370 pages – is there to be divided between the performer(s). As in other compositions of that time, this series of solos was not conceived as a piece that should be performed in its entirety, although this is not impossible to do. The compositions present a typical cageian flexibility: any performance is possible, from a single soloist performing one solo, to a complete set of 90 solos with multiple performers. This is the reason why the majority of Song Books performances are rather limited in scope, and have been performed in any space available. Curiously however, Cage gad a large theater space in mind when writing Song Books – there are solos that call for using a trap door, or suggestions to enter the stage from above. The performance at NODO festival was one of the few that took place at a traditional opera house (Antonín Dvořák Theater in Ostrava, bulit in 1907).  From our information, such a production has only been realized once, as part of Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik in 1982, on the stage of the opera house.

Petr Kotík

The influence of American composer John Cage (1912–1992) has not been limited to music: his stimuli have found broad appeal across diverse areas of art (dance, theater, poetry, visual art or film). His work is notable for its radical split with European musical tradition and the conception of art prevalent in his era. Around 1950, after his initial experimental search for new sounds, he came to a distinctive conception of music, striving to bridge the abyss between art and life. He put emphasis on the role of attention in the perception of art, pointing out that silence, too, is always filled with sounds (which normally remain unnoticed). Another stimulus had been provided by D.T. Suzuki’s lectures on Zen Buddhism, mainly the teaching on plurality of centers (“every being is the center of the Universe”), which became the basis of Cage’s new conception of musical time and coordination (from that point in Cage’s work on, each musician is treated as an independent individuality).

Jaroslav Šťastný



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