A letter from a great man


John Cage, Cuernavaca, 1973. Photographer: Dorothy Norman. Courtesy of the John Cage Trust.

Here’s a treasured letter I received from none other than John Cage (eminent mycologist to boot—Harmony of the Spores, that’s a good one) in 1972, when I was 18—replying to my bold schoolboy enquiry about the Yijing (as we later learned to call it) and impertinently asking if I could become his pupil:

Cage letter

Isn’t that lovely? Writing by hand, charming and to the point. Those were the days… This was long before I got hijacked by Daoist ritual, but it reminds me of my then absorption in Zen and Chinese mysticism. The energy of those times—by contrast with China, just after Li Manshan got married, amidst the stagnation following the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution…

As to me—to paraphrase Alan Bennett, the rest isn’t history.

Apart from all Cage’s aleatoric explorations, and my personal preference for 5’20” over 4’33”, the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano (1946–8—the heyday of Bird, Dizzie, Miles, and Billie (You’re my thrill, 1949), while Messiaen was composing Turangalîla; and the eve of the Communist takeover in China) seem to echo gamelan, cimbalom, or santur:

5 thoughts on “A letter from a great man

  1. Pingback: Learning the piano | Stephen Jones: a blog

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