Cage - Sonatas and interludes for Prepared Piano: Sonatas I-III

revision cards for Cage Music A2 set work



  • 1948
  • The sonatas are taken from a cycle of 16 sonatas and four interludes
  • Series of works written for prepared piano

- Prepared piano originated when Cage was commissioned to compose a dnace piece for Syvilla Fort in 1940. Only a piano was available so he expanded the range of sounds.

  • This work reflects the composers interst in Indian philosophy, and the idea of 'permanent emotions'.
  • Because of the preparation, the most important musical elements for the listener involve rhythm, structure, texture and timbre
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Rhythm and Metre...

  • Fractal/micro-macrocosmic scheme, small-scale ryhthmic durations determine the overall proportions of the structure

Sonata I uses seven-crotchet units in sets of 4-1-3 (repeated) and 4-2 (repeated):

- Bars 1-7: 4x7= duration of 28 crotchets

- Bar 8: 1x7= duration of 7 crotchets

- Bars 9-12: 3x7= duration of 21 crotchets

- Bars 13-19: 4x7= duration of 28 crotchets

- Bars 20-26: 2x7= druration of 14 crotchets

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...Rhythm and Metre continued...

Sonata II uses 31-crotchet units in sets of 1 1/2 (repeated) and 2 3/8 (repeated):

- Bars 1-14: 1 1/2x31 = duration of 46 1/2 crotchets

- Bars 15-37: 2 3/8x31 = duration of 53 1/2 crotches (approximately)

Sonata III uses 34-crotchet units in sets of 1 (repeated) and 3 1/4 (repeated)

- Bars 1-8: 1x34 = duration of 34 crotchets

- Bars 9-32: 3 1/4x34= duration of 110 1/2 crotchets

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...Rhythm and Metre continued

Sonatas are marked by:

- Off beat effects

- Triplets

- Other irregular note groupings

- Rhythmic displacements of short patterns (although Sonata III makes use of a more regular pulse)

- Frequent changes in time signature

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  • Usual features of melody are difficult to dicern due to the distortion of pitch from the prepared piano
  • Some 'apparently' chromatic and pentatonic elements
  • Elsewhere, melodic lines are often angular
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  • Traditional harmonic procedures do not occur due to the prepared piano
  • No cadences, and only occasional discernible chord structures:

- The opening 7th chord of Sonata I

- The parallel chords at bars 20-23 of Sonata I

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  • It is not useful to speak of tonality in relation to these works

Occasional tonal features:

- Pedal in left hand part at the opening of Sonata III: notated as  an A, but sounding at a C

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  • The Sonatas are superficiallly in binary form with repeats and some recapitulation (e.g. Sonata I, bar 18)
  • The organisation is fundamentally rhythmic
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Texture and Timbre

  • Preparation changes timbres of the piano drastically - dead, toneless sounds and distortion of pitched sounds
  • The effect of this is often compared to gamelan

Textures vary from:

- Homophonic (Sonata I, bar 1)

- Monophonic (Sonata II, bar 1)

- Two-part homorhythmic (Sonata II, bar 10)

- Layered (Sonata II, bar 30)

- Melody with pedal (Sonata III, bars 1-8)

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