Cage - Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

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to structure this piece, Cage uses the idea of the fractal (like a snowflake) through his micro-macrocosmic structure. All three sonatas are in 2-part binary form.


  • Cage breaks the work into phrases (marked by double bar lines/metre changes)
  • first phrase = 28 crotchets
  • uses double-dotted semibreve as multiplier = 7 crotchets
  • uses multiplier against number of crotchets in first phrase (28) to calculate length of entire sonata
  • breaks up first phrase into durations of crotchets and uses multiplier against these to calculate length of each phrase in the Sonata = 4:1:3 (repeated) and 4:2 (repeated)


  • first phrase = 31 crotchets
  • uses quadruply-dotted semibreve as multiplier = 7.75 crotchets
  • uses multiplier against number of crotchets in first phrase (31) to calculate duration of entire Sonata
  • breaks up first phrase into durations of bars = 1:0.5 (repeated) followed by 2:3/8 (repeated)
  • then uses NEW multiplier of 31 against each duration of bars to calculate length of each phrase
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does not use melody in a conventional sense due to indeterminate pitch (result of preparation)

Some traditional melodic devices are still used however:

descending sequences: bar 14-15 Sonata III

ornamentation (trill): bar 36 Sonata II

some evidence for motivic writing and motivic development

repetition of decorated Eb motif: bar 18-19 Sonata II

right hand figure in bar 2-3 of Sonata III is augmented to x8 its original length: bar 13 Sonata III

motif from bar 9 (left hand) is transposed into a rising scale in bar 17

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atonal - some aspects appear to informally relate to a tonal harmonic language:

triadic looking chords: bar 1 of Sonata I

use of pedals: bar 1-8 of Sonata III

pedal/drone: bar 28-34 of Sonata II

notes written do not necessarily correspond to those we hear due to indeterminate pitch as a result of the preparation of the piano

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through use of prepared piano, Cage inhabits a completely new timbral world to orthodox western art music

considerable idiomatic difficulty: bar 28-37

3 types of note

  • those with objects/'mutes' between all of the strings that produce a given note
  • those with objects between 2 out of 3 strings resulting in mixture of original pitch and new timbre
  • those without mutes (normal notes)

use of una corda pedal varies the prepared sounds even further (by reducing or intensifying the effect of the mute)

Cage was influenced by the book 'The Dance of Shiva' which claims are should imitate nature.

The idea of the fractal reflects nature (as in snowflakes)

could be interpreted that moods of Rasa are represented in Sonatas - Sonata II is supposedly ******

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Sonata I is largely homophonic with chordal homophony: bars 20-26

counterpoint is insinuated due to rhythmic independence bewteen parts: bar 15-17 Sonata I

monophony: bar 1 of Sonata II

use of pedal notes/drones: bar 28-34 of Sonata II

chordal-like homophonic 9ths: bar 23 Sonata III

complex 3-part texture: bar 30

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(micro-macrocosmic structure)

metric displacement (technique inherited from Jazz): bar 3 of Sonata II

Rag-like syncopation: bars 10-14 of Sonata II




frequent metrical changes

rhythmically challenging: bar 18 of Sonata III

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very helpful notes. have added a couple of things to my own cards from these. however the cage is definitely NOT atonal. it is difficult to follow harmony within it due to the percussive nature of the prepared piano but because there is still a sense of pitch in many chords it is indeed tonal.

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