Letters of an avant-garde icon
This selection of over five hundred letters gives us the life of John Cage with all the intelligence, wit, and inventiveness that made him such an important and groundbreaking composer and performer. The missives range from lengthy reports of his early trips to Europe in the 1930s through his years with the dancer Merce Cunningham, and shed new light on his growing eminence as an iconic performance artist of the American avant-garde. Cage's joie de vivre resounds in these letters—fully annotated throughout—in every phase of his career, and includes correspondence with Peter Yates, David Tudor, and Pierre Boulez, among others. Above all, they reveal his passionate interest in people, ideas, and the arts. The voice is one we recognize from his writings: singular, profound, irreverent, and funny. Not only will readers take pleasure in Cage's correspondence with and commentary about the people and events of a momentous and transformative time in the arts, they will also share in his meditations on the very nature of art. A deep pleasure to read, this volume presents an extraordinary portrait of a complex, brilliant man who challenged and changed the artistic currents of the twentieth century.
PART 1: 1930–1949
PART 2: 1950–1961
PART 3: 1962–1971
PART 4: 1972–1982
PART 5: 1983–1992
Appendix: Cage's Correspondents, With Sources of His Letters
JOHN CAGE (1912–1992) was an American composer whose inventive compositions and unorthodox ideas profoundly influenced twentieth-century music. He was an early proponent of aleatoric music (music where some elements are left to chance), used instruments in nonstandard ways, and was an electronic music pioneer. LAURA KUHN (Millbrook, NY) is the John Cage Professor of Performance Art at Bard College and director of the John Cage Trust.
"This book is an introduction to Cagean aesthetics to equal Silence, his 1960 collection of writings In words, as in music, Cage still opens our ears and minds."~Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times
"The Selected Letters of John Cage, a wide-ranging selection of correspondence edited by Laura Kuhn, may stand both as Cage's best biography to date and an unfailingly engaging introduction to his thinking. It demystifies Cage the far-removed guru and restores to us an eternally curious human being with a sharp, original mind and a gift for language that is apparent from the first letter in the book."~Tim Page, The New York Review of Books
"Cage's letters are charged with the ecstasy of the found, the joy of the unexpected, the unanticipated connection, and it spills over into his relationships with his fellows and friends (including some amazing women), among them the giants of music in his time."~Tim Pfaff, The Bay Area Reporter
"Each decade of letters is introduced with un-precious biographical narrative: how in the mid 1930s 'Cage was broke more often than not'; how in the late 1950s he won an Italian TV game show with mushrooms as his special subject; how in the early 1980s his neighbours John Lennon and Yoko Ono recommended he take up a macrobiotic diet."~Kate Molleson, Gramophone
"I might argue, from a Zen perspective, that music that says nothing also says everything. And so does Cage's work."~American Record Guide
"...these letters are important for those seeking a personal understanding of Cage."~Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News, "Editor's Choice"
"Cage's lifelong struggle to break down the European influence in music and the arts—in his view a tradition that was totally spent—is a tale engagingly told in his own words in a new 650-page book, The Selected Letters of John Cage."~Michael Johnson, Facts & Arts
"This is not a book that can be devoured in a biteremains an indispensable source for Cage research and interpretation."~Gisela Groneymeyer, MusikTexte
"John Cage created an offbeat gamelan-inflected, childlike, percussive wonderland of piano works. This rich legacy was the product of a long emotional evolution, as this vast compendium indicates, reflecting Cage's ever-genial, ultra-collegial personality."~Benjamin Ivry
"Cage's letters are invaluable in that they show us the day-to-day life of a composer at work: organizing concerts, raising funds, working with performers, worrying about getting the next piece done. Essential reading for anyone interested in Cage's music."~James Pritchett
"(Merce) Cunningham became Cage's great love and remained his spouse for the remainder of his life. The correspondence from the dawn of their uncommon and intensely beautiful romance, found in The Selected Letters of John Cage, is on par with Nabakov's love letters—that gold standard of the most intimate genre of the written word—makes a crowning addition to history's greatest LGBT love letters."~Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
"The publication of a great artist's letters is always an important event, but rarely is such a volume as thrilling to read as is The Selected Letters of John Cage, which takes us from the 1930s, when Cage was an eighteen-year-old college dropout traveling in Europe and Algeria, to his robbery at knifepoint shortly before his sudden death in 1992. In his published writings and even interviews, John Cage was so naturally reticent, so unfailingly polite and formal, that the letters, wonderfully informal and often surprisingly frank and even severe, come as a real surprise. Anyone interested in the development of the twentieth-century American avant-garde will want to read Cage's week-by-week reaction to its twists and turns. His life-in-letters emerges as a heroic tale of struggle and triumphant survival."~Marjorie Perloff