Europera 5

June 24, 2012
The Antonín Dvořák Theatre at 19:30

John Cage Europera 5 / Czech Premiere
Andrew Culver, Director (New York / Montreal)
Martha Herr, Soprano (São Paulo)
Katalin Károlyi, Mezzo-Soprano (Budapest)
Alexandr Starý, Piano (Ostrava)
At the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage

John Cage (1912-92) studied composition with Richard Buhling, Henry Cowell and Arnold Schoenberg. His invention of the prepared piano in 1940 and his early works for percussion ensemble established Cage as the leading American avant-garde composer. His most lasting contribution, however, is his introduction of new musical ideas and compositional concepts. In searching for the purpose of composing music in the late 1940s, Cage discovered an ancient definition, known in the Orient as well as medieval Europe: “To quiet ones own mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences.” It became immediately clear him that the Romantic idea of self-expression had to be overcome. This led Cage to introduce chance into his compositional method. In his music, Cage abandoned the hierarchy of contrasting parts and dramatic climaxes. Instead of “expressing oneself,” he introduced an open musical environment in which the listener, instead of being bombarded by the composers intentions, can find his or her own center. Sounds became themselves, and ceased to illustrate extra-musical phenomena. Silences became equally important as sounds, and tones became equally important as noises. Cage also changed the concept of time coordination. Instead of measures and beats, Cage introduced the stopwatch, and gave the conductor the function of a time-keeping clock. Along with the new way of measuring time came a new sensibility toward duration and musical form. Formerly unexplored possibilities opened, and enabled the creation of compositions with undetermined beginnings and endings. It became possible, for the first time in Western modern music, to conceive works with undetermined length. The new concept of time and sound and the radical departure from the musical thinking of the past makes new demands on performers. The new freedoms require a disciplined approach, which turns ones attention to “the spirit of the work,” and away from the idea of “expressing oneself.” In the mid 1970s, in a discussion about performance issues, Cage defined discipline in music as a process through which: “one does not do what one wants, but nevertheless, anything goes.” This concept is central to understanding Cages music – not just for the performer, but for the listener as well.

Europera 5 (1991) was John Cages last, and most portable opera. It is a collage scored for two singers, each singing five arias of their own choosing from the standard opera repertoire. A pianist "accompanies" them by playing six different opera transcriptions. They are joined by a single 78-rpm Victrola-player, playing six historical opera recordings and a performer playing a pre-recorded tape, plus the use of a radio and a silent television.

The separation of these various operatic elements in Europera 5 produces a spaciousness and awareness of distances that is so characteristic of Cages music. Cage also offers us a unique sense of historical distance--the singers performing the older operatic music in our presence; the pianist performing "romanticized" interpretations of romantic music and the Victrola presenting old music in old performances, coming to us through an old technology. It is only in the silences and the use of the radio that our present time intrudes.

© mode records. Used by permission.

 

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