Composer John Cage and His Avant-garde 4'33" Musical Piece
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Composer John Cage and His Avant-garde 4'33" Musical Piece

John Milton Cage, Jr. is an avant-garde composer in the mid-20th-century music. His famous work is 4'33" where the performer will not play a single note, a silent musical piece. He was the modern Bethooven from the Classical era.

John Cage, The Avant-garde Composer (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992)

He was born as John Milton Cage, Jr. at Los Angeles, California.  He was considered as one of the most influential American composer and was widely known for his avant-garde music.  Avant-garde word origin means "advance guard" or "vanguard" from the army advancing in the battle. An avant-garde refers to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics.

His early years as the son of an inventor, John Milton Sr. and a Los Angeles Times journalist influenced him to be intuitive and experimental. He  started  piano lessons at the age four and later mentors are Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and Arnold Schoenberg.  Cowell and  Schoenberg were also  both known for their radical innovations in music.

His art and music draws from ordinary things in life and make the best out of it like a clay rose a beautiful vase. Cage is always happy, fascinated with world, and experimented with it. He altered standard instruments, such as putting plates and screws between a piano’s strings, experimented with tape recorders, record players, and radios to go beyond the conventional western music.

He was considered as an avant-garde composer with unorthodox, radical, experimental compositions and performance which includes the 4'33" piece.

4'33" The Silent Musical Piece

Four minutes, thirty-three seconds sound of silence.  It is a three-movement composition written by Cage in 1852, where the performer is not to play the instrument during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements.  This piece was included in "The 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century". 

In later years, it has become his most famous  composition which Cage also regarded it as his most important work.  4'33" also became controversial and a subject of discussions.  It is  an outstanding piece to some, others find it boring, absurd, and so on. 

Music is built from the beauty of silence and from the sensitive art of listening of the environment. It is a personal experience where the audience becomes the performer and true appreciation relies on each person.   Because of its unconventional nature, it draws a lot of attention in the music history.

On January 16, 2004 a concert tribute to John Cage was held at the Barbican Centre in London.  The BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the UK's first orchestral performance of the piece broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

A poem about the beauty of silence written by the author published in Authspot, 25  November 2009

In silence

Body reconnects to soul

Mind and hearts meet

In the middle of a crowd

A defeaning silence



In silence

No confinements…

No boundaries…

Only hope, beauty, and profoundness

In silence I am alone…

I am free.


Some of his musical works includes :

Sonatas and Interludes (1946) for prepared piano where nuts and bolts,pieces of felt, rubber, and plastic were inserted into the strings to give the piano a percussive sound.

Imaginary Landscape No. 4(1951), Fontana Mix (1958)

Cheap Imitation an “impression” of the music of Erik Satie (1969) , this is the last  work Cage was able to perform in public because he suffered from  athritis .

Roaratorio (1979), an electronic composition utilizing thousands of words found in James Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake.

John Cage is  a composer, philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, writer, printmaker,amateur mycologist and mushroom collector. A revolutionary of chance music, electronic music and non-standard use of musical instruments.  His legacy is nfluenced by the modern generation of composers who wanted to follow his musical style.

Related keywords: how to play heart and soul
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Comments (7)

Very nice!

very talented person...a musical genius...

Ah! -This explains or illuminates a nondescript scene from an episode of "STAR TREK: the next generation" when Lt. Data was in his quarters listening to 'a musical composition' that included a very lengthy duration of ...silence! I'm sure it was more than 4min.33sec. but it was some alien opus he was listening to so the 'silence' could have been exceedingly long and be exempt from requiring any 'human' explanation for it..

thanks for the comments. He was really innovative and not afraid to introduce new things.

Some very good information.

Very informative factoidz. Actually I don't know him so thanks for sharing. Great factoidz/

I know how to play his piece by heart, thanks for sharing his work to the rest of the world by means of this article.