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06 August 2014

John Cage at the New School (1950-1960)

John Cage was involved with academic courses at the New School for Social Research for ten years between 1950 and 1960.  From 1950 until 1956, he was invited to take part in academic discussions and to undertake performances of his works by fellow composer, critic, and faculty member, Henry Cowell.

*March 1950 - performed works for prepared piano at "Living Composers"
*November 1951 - guest speaker at "The Meaning of Modern Music"
*1952 - concert series that included works by Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and Pierre Boulez
*October 1955 - "Five Sunday Evenings" series, in which Cage performed with Cowell, Elliott          Carter, and others
*1955 - Guest speaker at "Music and Musicians in Greenwich Village"

In 1956, Cage became a member of the faculty.  During his tenure, he taught five courses on the subjects of music and mycology.  His first course, "Composition" (the name changing to "Experimental Composition" in 1958), was continuous.

Course Outline:  (Experimental) Composition

Experimental music, a course in musical composition with technological, musicological, and philosophical aspects, open to those with or without previous training.  Whereas conventional theories of harmony, counterpoint, and musical form are based on the pitch and frequency components of sound, this course offers problems and solutions in the field of composition based on other components of sound: duration, timbre, amplitude, and morphology; the course also encourages inventiveness.

A full exposition of the contemporary musical scene in light of the work of Anton Webern, and present developments in music for magnetic tape (musique concrete: electronische musik).*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 1, 1956 Sept. 3 PP Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

In 1957, Cage introduced two new courses: Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer" and "Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer."  These one-term courses were taught in the summer and fall, respectively.

Course Outline:  Virgil Thomson: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Thomson's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of the course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.  Toward the end of the course the composer himself will be present to discuss his current activities.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 14 No. 32 1957 April 8

Course Outline:  Erik Satie: The Evolution of a Composer

All of Satie's works are discussed and as many as possible performed, live or by recording in chronological order, the purpose of this course being to recreate the experience the composer himself had in his music writing.  Active participation on the part of class members who are pianists or singers is welcomed.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 15 No. 1 1957 Sept. 2

Robert Whitman, Allan Kaprow, and George Brecht
Photo credit: Fred W. McDarrah
In 1958, Cage introduced a two-semester course, "Advanced Composition," which he taught with Henry Cowell and Frank Wigglesworth.  The class was scheduled to continue into the fall of 1958 and spring of 1959, but was cancelled.

George Brecht (center seated) and Allan Kaprow (rear, near coat).
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Course Outline:  Advanced Composition

Prerequisite: Three semesters of harmony and counterpoint, one of form and elementary, or the equivalent.  Admission by application to one of the instructors upon previous submission of one or more compositions.

Well-prepared students of serious composition are enabled to have their own works examined, reviewed, and discussed by experienced professional composers.  Students desiring to work in larger forms of all sorts -- symphonic, operatic, choral, music for the dance, chamber music, et al. -- are particularly welcome, although compositions in smaller forms are also accepted for examination.

While the composer-instructors consider the student's work with reference to its place in contemporary music, no one branch or school of modern music is emphasized rather than any other; any technique for handling contemporary material is studied if it has application to the student's problems.  It is not primarily a course in such techniques or in the analysis of the work of others, except insofar as this may be desirable for the student's better understanding of his own composition.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 16 No. 1 1958 PP Vol. 16 No. 19 1959 Jan. 5

Al Hansen giving instruction to Brecht and Kaprow
Photo credit: Harvey Gross
Cage's final course at the New School reflected his interest in mycology, "Mushroom Identification." Cage traces his interest in the subject to a trip to Stony Point in the early 1950s, where he realized he was "starved for nature" living in New York City.  Cage taught this class with Guy Nearing, a fellow co-founder of the New York Mycological Society.

Course Outline:  Mushroom Identification

Five field trips in the vicinity of New York City.  Preliminary meeting for information on transportation, etc., Monday, June 22, 8:20 p.m.

Mr. Cage is an amateur mycologist and honorary member, Gruppo Micological "G. Bresadola," Trent, Italy.*

*New School Catalog Vol. 19 No. 33 1959 April 20, Vol. 17 No. 1 1959 Sept. 7, Vol. 17 No. 31 1960 April 4

All information collated by Victoria Miguel from New School Bulletins and Catalogs, courtesy of Raymond Fogelman Library, N.S.U. June 2000

Laura Kuhn

13 March 2014

Pure (John Cage) Whimsy from

For some pure John Cage whimsy from*, click here.

*Puremagnetik is the project of sound programmer Micah Frank.  It has functioned since 2006 as a creative sound design outlet, releasing "packs" inspired by all kinds of ongoing recording work.  Frank himself is an award-winning music and sound programmer.  He studied jazz and contemporary music at The New School in New York, afterwards spending years as a professional composer and sound designer.  Currently he is the lead developer at Puremagnetik, as well as the Sound Packs Manager at Ableton AG.  He currently lives in Berlin.

Laura Kuhn