Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Score page from Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) by John Cage, Edition Peters 6705
© C.F. PETERS Musikverlag Frankfurt Leipzig London New York

The piano part in John Cage’s (1912–1992) Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) consists of 63 consecutively numbered, large-format sheets with various, for the most part graphic, notations. Each of the 84 notations is assigned a letter that refers to an explanation of the notation in a legend.[1]

The notation K (sheet 43) uses a staff and treble clef, but instead of note heads the name of the note as an alphabetical character at the corresponding place in the notation system is written. The performer is free to choose the rhythm. Cage calls AY (sheet 40) graph music, and in doing so makes reference to Morton Feldman’s notations, according to which the numbers in the boxes designate the number of attacks on the keyboard. In the same way as in a musical system, the linearly elapsing time runs from left to right. Pitch is noted vertically, which as a register is flexible according to Cage’s clef signature. BT (sheet 54) is very indetermined; here, only the points are specified at which the piano should be played.[2]

On the basis of the notation BB (sheet 53), Nelson Goodman demonstrates that this graphic notation is not notational—that is, determining a work according to his own definition.[3] The indeterminacy of the system is not compatible with notationality. In this notation, the performer has to drop perpendiculars of the individual points, which designate notes, onto the four lines, which stand for Duration, Frequency, Overtone Structure, and Occurrence. In this way, the performer obtains relative differences in length, which are translated into gradations of the parameters, and he or she can write down and play the notes with the parameters established in such a way.

Cage worked as a commercial artist between 1956 and 1968.[4] This influence is apparent in his concept for the sheet distribution in Concert for Piano and Orchestra. It was presumably the sheets from the piano concert being described here, which was completed in late March, that were exhibited at a gallery in May 1958 and in this way also perceived as drawings.[5]


  • original Title: Concert for Piano and Orchestra
  • Date: 1958
  • Genre: Music

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