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John Cage (1912-1992) created an offbeat gamelan-inflected, childlike, percussive wonderland of piano works. This rich legacy was the product of a long emotional evolution, as this vast compendium indicates, reflecting Cage’s ever-genial, ultra-collegial personality. In 1933, Cage wrote to fellow composer Henry Cowell: ‘I have no piano now. But that doesn’t bother me much.’ Before long he acquired one, focusing on composing for piano, prepared and unprepared. Decades later he was again piano-less, preferring to relish ambient traffi c noise outside his home. Throughout, Cage maintained warm feelings for pianists, none more so than David Tudor (1926-1996), with whom Cage fell in love, Kuhn explains, because of Tudor’s skill at playing keyboard works by Pierre Boulez. Cupid works in mysterious ways.

Cage would remain close to other valiant American pianists who welcomed his works, including Maro Ajemian (1921-1978), dedicatee of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. Ajemian also premiered Cage’s Three Dances for Two Prepared Pianos (1945) with William Masselos (1920-1992), another stalwart devotee of modern music. Perhaps because of shared fond feelings, some of Cage’s early keyboard works, such as the gracefully Gallic and approachable Dream (1948), are genuinely endearing. Along with the duo Arthur Gold (1917-1990) and Robert Fizdale (1920-1995), Cage’s preferred pianists populated an imaginative world, reflected in the sheer quantity of performers called for in some later works. Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis (1961) requires 20 pianists, and only a composer who genuinely enjoyed the presence of pianists would think to employ so many.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing