Monday, November 30, 2009


Many writings on the compositions of John Cage refer to his practice of composing without an agenda. Certainly, when juxtaposed with many classical composers, contemporary and otherwise, it appears that Cage writes his music without an agenda, a motive, and end in mind. But I don't think this is so. I think Cage always had an agenda, or perhaps that's not the word for it. I believe Cage wrote music with intention, and this intention was different from the intentions of the other composers to which he is often compared.

Instead of writing with the intention of manipulation, with an Alfred Hitchcock-inspired formula for controlling the audience's emotions, Cage wrote music with the intention of giving the audience an experience, allowing them to feel however they chose to. The ambiguity of his compositions, rather than acting as an indication of lack of intention, serves to reveal his intention. I think people just assume that the intention isn't there, because they aren't expecting to have to regard music in such a way. It's an indirect analysis, really. Rather than the music itself appearing to perform the action that its composer intended, one has to regard Cage himself, and ask "now why would he do that?"

So maybe it's more fair to say that Cage had an agenda, but his music didn't...

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