Title

THE SONGS OF JOHN CAGE (1932-1970)

Date of Completion

January 1986

Keywords

Music

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

Relatively little attention has been paid to John Cage's involvement with literature and voice. It was the purpose of this study to identify and analyze vocal techniques and text setting, as well as compositional process, in the more than one hundred solo songs Cage wrote between 1932 and 1970.^ The research problem was to identify consistent style characteristics, to define style changes that showed developmental trends, and to determine if there were any innovative practices.^ A survey of literature yielded appropriate analytical criteria. For compositions using traditional techniques, a standard methodology dealing with melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, form and text was used. For nontraditional techniques, chance, indeterminacy, electronics, noise, and mixed media were analyzed in relationship to the literature Cage chose for his music. The songs were studied chronologically in order to observe compositional techniques over time.^ The results of the study showed that Cage used the same range of styles and practices as that found in his instrumental production: chromatic writing; rhythmic structures; music for dance and theater; intentionally expressive composition; and chance music, whether determinate or indeterminate of composition and/or performance. A preference for low female voice range was observed. The definition of "song" was expanded to include theatrical events, electronics, games, and everyday activities. "Vocalise" was treated to electronic manipulation.^ The study concluded that Cage's own experimental practices benefited greatly from the avant-garde writing of the authors he set to music, especially Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and e. e. cummings. A development was observed towards the reinvention of language, the obliteration of syntax, and the destruction of linearity. Indeed, one consistent feature in the scores and notations of the solo songs which directly relates to Cage's choice of authors is the appearance of circular imagery and cyclic techniques. ^