4′33″  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
4′33″ is an experimental musical work by avant-garde composer John Cage. It consists of just over four and a half minutes of silence. Though first performed on the piano, the piece was composed for any instrument or instruments and is structured in three movements. The length of each movement is not fixed by the composer, nor is the total length of the piece. The title of the piece should reflect the timings chosen, and could therefore be different at every performance. The modern performance tradition of 4′33″ is to keep the total duration fixed as at the first performance.

Influence from the visual arts

Another cited influence for this piece came from the field of the visual arts. Cage's friend and sometimes colleague Robert Rauschenberg had produced, in 1951, a series of white paintings, seemingly "blank" canvases (though painted with white house paint) that in fact change according to varying light conditions in the rooms in which they were hung, the shadows of people in the room and so on. This inspired Cage to use a similar idea, as he later stated, "Actually what pushed me into it was not guts but the example of Robert Rauschenberg. His white paintings… when I saw those, I said, 'Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I'm lagging, otherwise music is lagging'." Cage's musical equivalent to the Rauschenberg paintings uses the "silence" of the piece as an aural "blank canvas" to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment.

Precursors

Cage was not the first composer to conceive of a piece consisting solely of silence. One precedent is "In futurum", a movement from the Fünf Pittoresken for piano by Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff. Written in 1919, Schulhoff's meticulously notated composition is made up entirely of rests. Cage was, however, almost certainly unaware of Schulhoff's work. Another prior example is Alphonse Allais's Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man, written in 1897, and consisting of nine blank measures. Allais's composition is arguably closer in spirit to Cage's work; Allais was an associate of Erik Satie, and given Cage's profound admiration for Satie, the possibility that Cage was inspired by the Funeral March is tempting. However, according to Cage himself, he was unaware of Allais's composition at the time (though he had heard of a 19th-century book that was completely blank).



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "4′33″" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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