Celebrating Cage and Debussy

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Two of arguably the most influential composers of the twentieth century turned super old this year: John Cage (100 this month) and Claude Debussy (150 last August). This week on Hammered! we pay homage to these modern musical titans with alternating selections from each’s vast piano oeuvre.

John Cage was six years old when Debussy died in 1918, and their musical overlap seems on the surface to be equally nonsignificant. But while each’s style represents wildly different aesthetic worlds, there are nevertheless striking similarities between their areas of musical consideration. 

Each exhibited a fascinating preoccupation with Far Eastern culture, manifesting for both composers in works that re-imagine its sounds, rhythms and timbres. In the case of Cage, Chinese texts and Zen Buddhism provided a philosophical foundation for an entire period of his compositional output. In a more strictly musical sense, Debussy and Cage also paid obsessive attention to the musical integration of silence, and dealt fastidiously with rhythm, timbre and form, which for both was often a function of strict numerical proportions and symmetries.    

The juxtaposition of piano music this week hopes to tease out some of those interrelations. On Monday’s two-part show, half showcases aspects of this Eastern influence (Debussy’s “Pagodes” from Estampes and selections from Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes), and half explores two takes on the same formal genre (Debussy’s Etudes book two, and Cages Etudes Australes). Later in the week, hear Debussy’s Image paired with Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes, and two days of Debussy Preludes (books one and two) balanced with miniatures spanning Cage’s entire compositional career.