Throughout history, the public has constantly desired to be impressed by artists. Even though the perception of this term has varied in different stylistic periods, from the angelic dimension expected in religious music to the libertinism presented in Renaissance madrigals, from the heroism of the Classical era to the mysticism of Romanticism, composers have attempted to deliver new elements in music beyond the barriers of their respective eras. As each individual reacts differently to new content, often even shocking for the mentality of their time, there are nevertheless two composers who cannot fail to capture the attention of the listener while simultaneously provoking the indignation of more conservative individuals.
Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage are composers who have broken not only stylistic barriers but also the perception of music in general. They lived and composed during approximately the same period, with a 16-year age difference between them.
For those who have not yet heard of these two composers, we would like to present some basic information about them. Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) was a German composer, one of the most influential and innovative figures in 20th-century music. He is known for his contributions to experimental music, electronic music, and serial music. John Cage (1912-1992), on the other hand, was an American composer, music theorist, and artist, known for his significant contributions to experimental music and the development of radical concepts in music.
What sets their work apart and how do they differ from their contemporaries or any other composer? Firstly, there is their desire to create something innovative and their emphasis on their philosophical perception of music without relying on traditional musical techniques. If we have managed to confuse you, let us highlight the fact that John Cage composed a piece titled “4’33”,” a piano piece in which not a single sound from the piano is heard because the performer simply sits in front of the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Meanwhile, in Stockhausen’s collection of works called “Aus den sieben Tagen” (“From the Seven Days”), the composer does not provide a traditional score but leaves it up to the performer, including the choice of the location for the performance, providing only certain elements as guidance, even suggesting that the performer should not consume food.
We have certainly piqued your curiosity, so let’s discover more about the work of these two composers to understand their uniqueness in the world of music.
“Water Walk” is a piece composed and performed by John Cage, initially presented on the television show “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1960. This presentation itself was another novelty for a classical music composer, as they were accustomed to presenting a new work in a concert hall. This live performance became one of the most famous and popular moments in which Cage exposed his innovative ideas and explored the concept of extended music. Cage combined household objects and various sound elements to create a musical performance in an unconventional manner. The performer, in this case Cage himself, goes through different stages and actions, using various objects such as a garden hose, a radio, a blender, an iron, a bottle of water, and many others. The audience probably thought it was a joke and initially treated this moment as satire without seeking the underlying idea of the composer.
The idea behind this work is that any sound or action from everyday life can be considered music. Cage wanted to draw attention to the sounds in the surrounding environment and frame them within an artistic context, highlighting them and prompting the audience to reflect on the concept of music and how sounds can be perceived in a new way.
Cage’s performance in “Water Walk” has often been seen as an act of theater and entertainment, as he used his charisma and humor to bring elements of surprise and amusement to his interpretation. This playful and provocative approach to music contributed to the popularity and impact of the work “Water Walk.”
The work exemplifies Cage’s philosophy of approaching music and sound in an unconventional way and opening up new possibilities in artistic expression. By incorporating objects and actions from everyday life into a musical performance, Cage emphasized the idea that music can be found in the most mundane and ordinary aspects of our existence.
However, Stockhausen reaches the next level in two completely unconventional works, where the composer even utilizes helicopters. Yes, you heard it right. This work was completed in 1993 and is part of his cycle of works called “Licht” (“Light”), which includes seven grand operas, each centered around a mythological character.
The Helicopter String Quartet is a complex and unusual composition in which four helicopters are used as musical instruments. Each helicopter is equipped with a pilot and a musician, and the sounds produced by the helicopters are recorded in real-time and mixed in a surround sound system. While the helicopters fly above the stage and produce various sounds, including the sounds of rotors, horns, sirens, and radio signals.
Stockhausen’s purpose in composing this work was to push the boundaries of traditional music and create a unique musical and spatial experience for listeners. By using helicopters as musical instruments, he explored new possibilities for producing and distributing sounds in space.
“Aus den sieben Tagen” is an unconventional work since it does not have traditional musical notes marked on a score. Instead, Stockhausen wrote a series of texts, each associated with one of the seven days of the week, which served as guidelines for the performer. These texts contain vague and descriptive instructions, such as “play a long and beautiful note” or “begin playing when you feel ready to continue.” The idea behind this approach was to allow the performer to explore music intuitively, to connect with their own creativity, and to improvise during the performance.
It was first performed in 1968, in a concert held in Donaueschingen, Germany. Many critics and listeners were initially shocked and confused by this work, considering it inaccessible and far from the traditional standards of classical music. Others were fascinated by the unconventional approach and the potential for individual interpretation. Reactions were diverse, and “Aus den sieben Tagen” sparked intense debate within the music community.
From the examples presented above, we can observe how classical music constantly metamorphoses, being presented in new forms, generating both indignation and fascination among the audience attending concerts. These two composers demonstrate that classical music can acquire new dimensions adapted to the era in which they live, and we, as listeners, can enjoy the constant innovations in this field.
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