Woody Guthrie on Cage

A couple of months ago I gave a lecture as part of the COMA Summer Festival called Cage the melodist, harmonist and American traditionalist. This slightly contrary title was supposed to provide an introduction to a talk on the more apparently traditionally composed works of Cage and his connection with traditional American music of various kinds. At some point I’ll write the lecture up. I was delighted to find, when researching it, a letter from Woody Guthrie to the record company that released records of Cage’s prepared piano music. Tom Service has written about this in his excellent series on contemporary music in the Guardian. You can read that here. He’s kind enough to mention that I made him aware of this (when it might have been more representative to point out that I drunkly rambled on about it for ages instead – although his link certainly affected my blog traffic for a week or so though).

I particularly like the section of the letter when Guthrie describes his own piano experiments:

I remember when I was a kid, I used my grandma’s piano, a Price & Deeple, upright, to storm myself up all kinds of wars, fogs, storms, battles, courtings, growings, and love affairs.

Sounds like this could provide track titles for album.

You can read the article with this letter in the Stool Pigeon here.

The lecture was also partly inspired by a recording that intersperses the Cage 1950 Melodies for Violin and Keyboard Instrument and a 13 Harmonies for Violin and Keyboard Instrument which is a Cage endorsed 1985 Roger Zahab arrangement of 5 of  the Harmonies from Apartment House 1976 (1976) and eight of the Hymns and Variations (1979). Although not to everyone’s taste I love this recording for the beautiful playing, inevitable glitches from close mic-ing and the sound of the Fender Rhodes. It’s performed by Annelie Gahl and Klaus Lang and you can read more about it at Discogs here.

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