“More than Meets the Ear: An Account on the Shared Ac(counts) of Cage and Stravinsky” | April 23 | Performatica Festival


Following the performance of Vesna’s Fall, Kay Festa is ‘performing’ (with a little help from her friends) a paper entitled “More than Meets the Ear: An Account on the Shared Ac(counts) of Cage and Stravinsky,” which brings together some of the findings and insights that were accumulated during the production of Vesna’s Fall. The presentation will take place at the ‘Agora’ building inside Universidad de las Americas, from 3:15pm on April 23. The abstract of the paper is as follows:


More than Meets the Ear: An Account on the Shared Ac(counts) of Cage and Stravinsky

Kay Festa

John Cage has recounted his decision to study with Schoenberg as a choice won over Stravinsky: “Schoenberg was approaching sixty when I became one of his students in 1933. At the time what one did was to choose between Stravinsky and Schoenberg.“ The consequence of that choice, as well as the mutual indifference between Cage and Stravinsky is well known. But there is more than meets the eye, or the ear. As recent studies have shown, Stravinsky used a systematic methodology to generate the complex rhythmic structure of Le Sacre du printemps, and it was this structure underlying the distribution of rhythms that Nijinsky based his choreography upon. Thus, when the noisy audience reaction reached the height of masking the music at the premiere of Le Sacre in 1913, Nijinsky could shout out the counts from the wings to convey the necessary structure to his dancers who could no longer hear the orchestra. In this way, the relationship between dance and music in Le Sacre proves to be an important precursor for the collaboration between Cage and Cunningham. By further extending this comparison to Stravinsky’s ‘block form’ and Cage’s ‘gamut technique,’ this paper analyzes the two composers’ similar focus on mechanical procedures to create empty structures which were then used to accommodate diverse ‘blocks’ of sound and rhythm. This approach is seen as rooted in a kindred modernist interest for a super-sensorial platform upon which individual sensorial materials can be positioned and maneuvered—a proximity mediated by music’s strong connection to dance, which was never shared by Cage’s teacher Schoenberg.