Cage at Black Mountain College, 1948 and 1952
… at the time John [Adams] was teaching anthropology there. It seems that John, as an amateur artist, often consulted other artists on the faculty. One night he was working on a painting, and came to a difficult point in his work. He walked over to where Bob Rauschenberg lived, and onto the unlighted front porch, and knocked on the door. The artist answered the door and turned on the porch lights. To his horror, John saw that he had walked across a canvas that Rauschenberg had apparently spread out on the porch to dry.
“My God, Bob!” he said, “I’m afraid I’ve ruined your painting!” Rauschenberg didn’t bat an eye, just looked at him intently and asked quietly:
“Did you have on interesting shoes?”[i]
Within the continuum of Cage’s aesthetic development, the specific “transition” period between his percussion works (including the bulk of the prepared piano pieces) and his full-fledged use of indeterminacy spans a five-year period from 1948 to 1952. This period can be delimited by the nature of either Cage’s compositions or his prose. From a compositional perspective, this transition begins with the completion of the Sonatas and Interludes in March of 1948, after which Cage embarked on a series of exploratory works over the next five years. Three works in particular represent the culminations of this period: Music of Changes ; the multi-media Black Mountain Piece ; and 4’33” . The essays and lectures of this transition period can be grouped into two sets of three on either side of 1950, the year in which Cage’s East Asian appropriations first appeared, and these prose works document an artist in the process of aesthetic realignment. “A Composer’s Confessions” , “Defense of Satie”  and “Forerunners of Modern Music”  are the central documents that codify the aesthetic of a Cage who was interested in music as a reconciler of dualities and whose prose selectively drew from the rhetoric of South Asian philosophy and aesthetics and Christian mysticism for its coloration. While appropriations from these sources continued to appear intermittently in Cage’s prose of the 1950s, they were dwarfed in this decade by his considerable network of borrowings from East Asian philosophy, first presented in the “Lecture on Nothing” [c. 1950], “Lecture on Something” [c. 1951-52] and the “Juilliard Lecture” .
Conveniently, the temporal boundaries of this transition period are also defined geographically by Cage’s visits to North Carolina’s Black Mountain College. Cage visited in April 1948 with Cunningham, taught in the summers of 1948 and 1952, and visited in the summer of 1953. Cunningham visited in April 1948 with Cage and taught in the summers of 1948, 1952 and 1953. He visited for one week in the spring of 1950 and taught classes. He was not at the college in the winter of 1953. Merce Cunningham made twice as many visits, the last in the winter of 1953. At the most basic level, these visits themselves are part and parcel of any biographical sketch of Cage, yet a lack of detail on these events often makes “Black Mountain College” a perennial cliché in Cage scholarship that mandates elaboration. Moreover, the comparative study of these relatively brief visits vividly documents a Cage at the beginning and conclusion of this transition period, and his experiences at Black Mountain College derive additional historical importance through their connection to one or more of the aesthetic or compositional landmarks listed above. In the spring of 1948, for example, Cage premiered the complete Sonatas and Interludes at the College; a few weeks later, he provoked campus controversy with “Defense of Satie.” The only performance of Black Mountain Piece, popularly considered the first “Happening,” took place in the campus dining hall during his visit in August of 1952,[ii] and after years of fantasizing about a composition that would be completely silent, Cage wrote 4’33” immediately after this same visit, as though his full conversion to this aesthetic principle had required one last walk in the woods.
To date, the most thorough published discussions of Cage’s visits have come from Black Mountain scholars, such as Mary Emma Harris[iii] or Martin Duberman,[iv] who rightly treat Cage as a peripheral figure in the greater history of the school. In contrast, this essay takes Cage as its centerpiece, enhancing traditional source materials with documents from the 100,000+ items related to the Black Mountain College housed in Oteen[v] as well as with original interviews conducted with former staff and students of the school. Following a general overview of Black Mountain College, each of the first three subsequent sections of this study reviews one of Cage’s visits to Black Mountain College – the first dating from April 3-8, 1948; the second in July and August of 1948; and the last in August of 1952. In all three instances, the focus is dual; the primary thrust is historical, recounting the biographical facts surrounding Cage’s activities as a pedagogue, performer and creative artist, thereby providing a thorough backdrop. In addition, the aesthetic portions of this essay treat Black Mountain College as a case study, tracing some of the conceptual threads through their “applied” expressions, be it through the presentation of a lecture or the integration of particular principles in selected compositions historically associated with the College. In the case of Cage’s last visit, his affinities with the theatrical theorist Antonin Artaud are surveyed as well, noting some conceptual parallels with the East Asian philosophies that engrossed Cage at the time. Finally, the essay considers Cage’s Black Mountain College legacy, enumerating in turn the unique opportunities that the Black Mountain experience afforded to him.
Always “more camp than campus like,”[vi] North Carolina’s Black Mountain College was one of the pre-eminent “experimental” educational institutions of its day. Founded in 1933 as an academic and administrative alternative to the “traditional” university, the College was noted in part for the uncommon degree of self-determinism it afforded its students. There were no pre-established course requirements; although grades existed for transfer purposes, students did not know them. With seldom more than 100 Black Mountain College students at a time, they were able to design their own curricula and graduate by tailor-made examination. The experiment of Black Mountain extended into the realm of community as well; all lent their voices – sometimes heatedly – to debates over subjects ranging from faculty appointments to campus mores. Social labels were fluid, and “teacher” and “student” were just as often “co-tenants.” As one alumna summarized:
… no rank, no tenure, no grades (except for transfer purposes), flexible curriculum, arts at the center, no separate administration, no trustees, nobody to make the decisions and take the consequences but ourselves. No advantage to be there except to be there. No degree, no accreditation … We built buildings together, ran a farm, did the physical maintenance, and provided most of our own cultural events.[vii]
In anticipating the social and artistic movements of the 1950s and 60s, the Black Mountain community has been overstated to various extents as pre-Beatnik and/or proto-hippie. Alumnus and minimalist artist Kenneth Noland has suggested Black Mountain as one of the symbolic birth sites of “pop” culture itself.[viii] Many of the locals of nearby Asheville had noted the College’s progressive quirks almost immediately, scandalized by its informal dress code, which included jeans, shorts, and even sandals (the College’s isolated attempts at racial integration in the mid-1940s were not well received, either). At the very least, Black Mountain was an aggressively open-minded and unique environment – perhaps the only site in America where the 250-pound, 6-foot-7-inch writer Charles Olson might be seen practicing proper foot positions under the direction of Merce Cunningham,[ix] where David Tudor might be found seated at a grand piano in a dining hall performing Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata for a hot and sweaty audience just in from the afternoon’s baseball game,[x] or where a work of art might be completed by an errant footprint.
The history of the College is highlighted by several well-known names among its staff and students. Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers were among the permanent faculty for a time, as were Charles Olson, composers Lou Harrison and Stefan Wolpe, and musicologists Edward Lowinsky and Alfred Einstein. The roster of visiting summer staff is equally impressive: Cage, Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, artists Lionel Feininger, Leo Amino, Franz Kline, Jack Tworkov, Robert Motherwell, and musicians such as Roger Sessions, Edward Steuermann, Rudolf Kolisch, and Ernst Krenek. The College’s best-known students include artists Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Snelson, as well as director Arthur Penn and faculty writer Robert Creeley.
Both scholars and alumni have winced at “celebrity” lists such as that above, however, albeit for different reasons. To the researcher, the cumulative achievements of such figures make the preliminary compilation of background materials for any Black Mountain College study an almost prohibitive task. In the winter of 1933, for example, both of the Albers’ arrived at the College with formidable professional histories reaching back to the recently suspended Dessau Bauhaus. In the summer of 1948, Buckminster Fuller came to the College with some of the raw materials needed to attempt the construction of a geodesic dome as well as twenty years’ worth of “dymaxion” development. Cage’s fifteen years of compositional experience and a keen spiritual kinship with Satie were part of his Black Mountain College baggage in 1948 along with the white shirts, black shoes, and dark ties that in themselves set him apart from the rest of the College community. Some teachers—notably the European community—wore suits, ties and dress shoes. Alumni, on the other hand, sometimes lament the historical imbalance caused by the neglect of the more everyday aspects of Black Mountain College, which they contend constitute the true “essence” of the College. As one alumnus complained, accounts of the College commonly lack “the composite texture of what we underwent and shared there, all the impressions we experienced apart from tutelage, under tutelage, and despite and in defiance of tutelage. There was more going on than the incubation of culture heroes.”[xi]
Historically, it bears note as well that Black Mountain’s “famous” were often far from famous during their affiliation with the College; “realistic” contextualizations, therefore, often mandate the conscious disassociation of individuals from their later successes. In 1948, for example, the College made arrangements for established artist Mark Tobey to serve as the summer’s painting instructor. Illness, however, forced Tobey’s last-minute cancellation, and following Cage’s recommendation to Josef Albers, the position went to an utter unknown from New York who was still stinging from the disaster of his first one-man show in which not a single painting was sold. At the time, Willem de Kooning was grateful for the work, delighted at the prospect of receiving the standard summer salary of $25 per week, free room and board and up to $100 in traveling expenses. [xii] Both Cage and Cunningham were virtually unknown on the East Coast outside of New York until the later 40s.
Cage had appreciated the potential of a place like Black Mountain College at least since the late 1930s, when he recalls writing to see if there might be a staff opening for him, which there apparently was not. In 1942, he wrote again, suggesting the College might become the site for a Center for Experimental Music,[xiii] a pet project to which Cage devoted a fair amount of time during the 40s and 50s. No mention of the proposal appears in the extant minutes of Black Mountain College’s Board of Fellows and Faculty Meetings, however, and it was probably rejected at an early stage (as it was everywhere else). In either case, Cage’s recollections are entirely plausible yet remain unverified by extant correspondence.
The first documented exchange between Cage and Black Mountain College occurred during his 1948 road tour with Cunningham, when the two stopped there for six days in April between performances in Virginia and Chicago. Cage had written the College earlier, soliciting its interest in a music and dance performance; the response had been favorable, save for the stipulation that only room and board could be offered in return. The Black Mountain community of 1948 was hardly naive in musical matters; in fact, for a fledgling college, the facilities of its Music Department were quite healthy. The inventory boasted four grand pianos, three thoroughly worn uprights, a radio and a phonograph.[xiv] In addition, former Black Mountain College instructor Alfred Einstein (then at Smith College) had just donated 75 separate issues of Musical Quarterly, Modern Music, The Journal of Musicology[xv] and Music and Letters to the already impressive collection of books, scores, and some 800 records in the College library.[xvi] Yet while its facilities were ostensibly thriving, the Music Department itself had all but stalled in recent months because of a dramatic depletion of faculty members. The department’s director, Heinrich Jalowetz,[xvii] had died in 1946, and Lowinsky had left on a Guggenheim Fellowship, never to return, forcing a drastic reduction in music-related course offerings. By the end of the 1947-48 academic year, the Department consisted of two faculty members who could offer only a piecemeal curriculum in composition and voice.
Cage’s and Cunningham’s arrival at Black Mountain College, therefore, was appreciated both for its momentary reanimation of musical activity on the campus as well as for the rare opportunity to see – and even attempt – contemporary dance, for which the College did not yet have a program. As one unidentified Black Mountain author recounted:
Rarely do people and moments deeply excite, beyond sensation, the spirit. This rare adventure may occur when one’s own deepest aims are befriended by the activity or words of one another, when the margins of all we do not know are lent to us to know. The loan is momentary, but the presence it evokes occupies our imagination longer.
All this is a kind of paean of praise, gratitude, and fellowship to John Cage and Merse [sic] Cunningham, who visited Black Mountain College April 3 to April 8 – only a few days to touch so many hearts with freshening impulses of the desire to create … The current of creative energy since their visit has illuminated the college both in creation and response.[xviii]
During these six days, Cunningham gave a recital of works from his tour,[xix] coached the community through a series of rudimentary dance exercises and also worked directly with individual students. In addition to his duties as accompanist, Cage performed his Sonatas and Interludes, which he had completed only the month before, documenting this visit to Black Mountain as the instance of that work’s premiere – the first of several Cage premieres to occur at this venue.
Following this concert (and coffee in the community house), Cage became the focus of an informal question-and-answer session. In the course of the discussion, he presented the foundations of his work and aesthetic as they stood in the late 40s, expressing his antagonistic stance toward western harmony and describing the temporally based “rhythmic structures” that served as the formal underpinning of his own works. He also remarked on concepts such as music as an art of reconciliation, all persons as artists, and the equation of art with life – all of which clearly reflected the impact of his South Asian readings:
He said that he felt that the highest use of music was like that of anything a man “made”: to integrate a man’s total faculties through the order of the composition. Primarily the work performs this function for its creator, but the nice thing about “art” (anything a man “makes”) is that it may have the same power for another – a creative performer or audience. And, since integration may recognize itself in a stranger, a new society may one day slowly take shape out of the present schizophrenia through our self-won coordination. It begins with music and ends with a common human nature. [xx]
Cage’s most vivid recollection of this initial visit to Black Mountain was his departure; as he tells it, in preparing to leave, he and Cunningham discovered gifts from the community – paintings, food, artworks – that had been piled under their car as tokens of thanks.[xi] Before leaving the campus, they accepted Josef Albers’s invitation to participate as instructors in the now celebrated Summer Session of 1948.[xxii]
July – August, 1948
Summer sessions at Black Mountain began modestly in 1941 and ‘42, when intersession work camps were established alongside general summer course offerings in order to make necessary repairs to the school’s facilities. But these summer sessions quickly evolved into the full-scale artists’ colonies that are now the frequent subject of study. In 1944, the school oversaw dual Summer Art and Music Institutes, the latter organized by Jalowetz as a celebration of Schoenberg’s 70th birthday; guests included Edward Steuermann, Roger Sessions, and Ernst Krenek. These institutes were repeated the next summer, and again, the participants were primarily emigrated Europeans, including Alfred Einstein, Walter Gropius and Lionel Feininger. Robert Motherwell also made his first appearance at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1945. Because of the various faculty vacancies in the Music Department described earlier, the Music Institute was suspended in 1946 and 1947.
By April of 1948, however, music was reinstated into the curriculum for the upcoming eight-week summer session, which was to be held from July 1st through August 25th. As the college bulletin advertised, the focus of the summer was to be on art, with “distinguished guest members added to our regular faculty. Opportunities not available during the rest of the year will also be furnished by guest faculty in Music, Drama, Dance, Literature, and Social Psychology … ”[xxiii] As usual, it took several rounds of inquiries to solidify the session’s roster of visiting faculty. Ultimately, the 1948 summer faculty members (and their respective course offerings) coalesced into the following:
- Helen Livingston (Neighborhood Playhouse, New York), courses in drama and speech;
- author Isaac Rosenfeld (New York University), Tolstoy;
- Merce Cunningham, dance;
- Cage, one course on the “Structure of Music;” another on “Choreography;”
- Willem de Kooning, painting;
- Peter Grippe (New York City), sculpture;
- Richard Lischer (New York City), a six-week woodworking course;
- Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. (Museum of Modern Art), industrial design;
- Charles Burchard, a four-week course in architecture in August;
- Winslow Ames, (director, Springfield [Missouri] Art Museum), a four-week course in July on the history of printmaking;
- Donald Calhoun (Chicago), social psychology; and
- Buckminster Fuller, a single course in architecture and industrial engineering.
In addition, returning summer instructor Beaumont Newhall (formerly of the Museum of Modern Art) taught the history of photography; Josef Albers offered instruction in Color and Design; and his wife, Anni, taught Weaving, assisted by Jalowetz’s daughter, Trude Guermonprez. (See chart.)
It was quite common for summer staff to bring their families along to Black Mountain; some even brought unpaid assistants, to whom the College extended free room and board. This particular summer, Cunningham wanted to bring two or three dance students with him, including Louise Lippold, wife of sculptor Richard Lippold, and a soon-to-be choreographer in her own right. The Lippolds were close friends of Cage and Cunningham, and soon Cage was negotiating with the College for permission to let the entire Lippold family come to Black Mountain, suggesting that Richard serve as an informal sculptor-in-residence. The College wired back, explaining that it had no objection in principle, but that there was simply no available lodging. Cage responded by night letter with the solution, informing the College of Lippold’s recent purchase of a large, all-purpose hearse:
Greetings to all. Have made several attempts to obtain scholarship fund for Merce’s students but to no avail. Because of their inner tranquility and summer plans (Sara had already gotten suitable clothes and a flashlight) please send final work [sic ] by Friday whether one, two, or three of them can be taken care of. They are penniless. All of us are exhausted here and have profound need of Black Mountain. Can Lippolds come too? They have tested their hearse for sleeping purposes and find it works. Sara practically insists on coming in the manner of a stowaway if necessary. Please consider me thoughtful in all of this for I have not mentioned all the many others who want to come too.
In the long run, the College agreed to take on two of Cunningham’s students as well as the Lippold family for the summer. The Lippolds arrived at Black Mountain College with one of Richard’s recent wire sculptures strapped to the hearse’s roof, twanging against its own tines.
Music figured prominently in the summer’s course offerings; Erwin Bodky, pianist and harpsichordist at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Massachusetts, arranged for his own assistant musicians to attend the summer session with him. Bodky, a Prussian-born keyboardist who had studied with Richard Strauss and had gained recognition as an interpreter of early music, had participated previously in both the Music Institute of 1945 and the general summer session of 1947. In the summer of 1948, he arrived not as a visitor but as the new full-time faculty member faced with the task of reinvigorating Black Mountain College’s near dormant Music Department; besides his two assistant student-musicians, his entourage included his own harpsichord, clavichord, and a grand piano as well. Initially, Bodky proposed to teach any one of three courses for the summer: 300 years of keyboard music in the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, and Italy; a general review of the development of keyboard music from 1500 to 1800; or “the 32 piano Sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, played, discussed and analyzed.”
Black Mountain College – 1948 Summer Session Schedule[xxv]
He also suggested a course on Bruckner, Mahler and Schoenberg, but qualified that the college must have the necessary recordings.[xxvi] It didn’t, and Bodky ultimately opted for the music of Beethoven, a decision that would set the stage for an aesthetic altercation with Cage.
Once gathered, the faculty, their families, and seventy-four students, about half of whom were newcomers to Black Mountain,[xxvii] participated in the most frequently discussed and, some contend, “the most significant”[xxviii] of Black Mountain College’s Summer Sessions. To Harris, for instance, this particular summer was “a magical one,” symbolizing “the end of the dominance of the European artists at the college and the emergence of the young Americans, who were to be the creative leaders in the arts in the United States for the next twenty-five years.”[xxix] Today the summer of 1948 is better remembered as the “Satie Summer,” during which Cage emerged as the session’s single most vibrant and controversial catalyst.
For the Black Mountain College summer session of 1948, it was initially intended that Cage would teach two classes: “The Structure of Music” and “Choreography.”[xxx] The Choreography course was cancelled, perhaps due to low (or no) enrollment.[xxxi] The Structure of Music class, though, went on as planned, and Cage’s seven students included: Cunningham’s dance student Sara Hamill; regular Black Mountain students W.P. (“Pete”) Jennerjahn and his wife Elizabeth (“Betty”); Joseph Fiore; Kenneth Noland; Margarite (“Pipsi”) Warner-Jones, a student from England who had come to Black Mountain exclusively for the summer session (a phenomenon not at all unusual for the College summer sessions); and one John Vorenberg, about whom no information can be found.[xxxii] Though not originally intended as a composition class, Cage’s course largely consisted of passing on his principles of rhythmically-based structure. W. P. Jennerjahn recalls that “as class exercises, Cage would have us beat out rhythms, or clap them, and we would have to compose little melodies in the mirror style of phrasing that Satie employed (e.g., 5:11:11:5).”[xxxiii] Noland states that while the class occasionally met as a group, more often than not, Cage met with each student privately, and further, rather than teaching harmony in the traditional sense, Cage assigned his students to write short pieces.[xxxiv] Fiore has no memory of class meetings at all, recalling only individual meetings with Cage.[xxxv]
Over the course of the summer, the radically different perspectives from which the subject of music was approached made it a focal – and controversial – theme. Bodky, for instance, was responsible for a series of recitals, usually held on Saturday nights. His programs were straightforward: an initial solo piano recital in which he played works by Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Bartók, and Chopin; a week later, trio sonatas by Beethoven and Dvorák, as well as the Brahms E minor Cello Sonata, Op. 38 featuring the assistant musicians who had accompanied him to Black Mountain for the summer. Later in the season, Bodky’s guests, violinist Frederick Neumann of the Manhattan School of Music and Neumann’s wife, cellist Joan Radley, gave a duo-recital of works of Haydn, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Paganini and Glière, and in what was probably Bodky’s last concert of the season, he, Neumann, student cellist Judith Davidoff and flutist Angelica Bodky offered a concert of works by Loeillet, Couperin, Rameau, Tartini, Bach, and Guillemain.[xxxvi]
Cage’s musical activities and aesthetic attitudes had already created skeptical rumblings in some parts of the College. Though admired for his articulate musical discourse, the fact was that his invitation to teach had come not from the musicians at all, but from Albers. Cage punctuated the summer with irreverent polemics against much of the standard concert repertoire (e.g., “music stopped its true course after 1600”).[xxxvii] Cage, too, had been asked to prepare several concerts over the summer, focusing specifically on modern music, but the series that he finally organized was not to the liking of Bodky or his circle. Considering the limited instrumental resources of the College (as well as Cage’s personal tastes), the entire series revolved around a single composer, and in almost all of the twenty-five succeeding concerts (usually held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings), Cage himself appeared as solo artist in what he dubbed “The Amateur Festival of the Music of Erik Satie,” emphasizing the “amateur” status of the series in self-recognition of his own pianistic limitations.[xxxviii] At times, these concerts took place in the dining hall, but more often Cage performed on the piano in his cabin while audience members sat and listened from outdoors. For a few pieces, Cage drummed up assistants. Freshly graduated Black Mountain alumna Patsy Lynch, who had lingered to attend the summer session, recalls in particular playing some of Satie’s four-hand works with Richard Lippold.[xxxix]
The culminating event of the Festival was a performance of Satie’s dadaist one-act play, Le piège de Méduse, or The Ruse of Medusa. Cage had found this work earlier in the rare book collection of the New York Public Library and passed it on to Black Mountain instructor Mary Caroline (“M.C.”) Richards upon his arrival at the College. Richards was away for most of the summer session, but translated the work in the meantime and brought it back with her in mid-August, when it was ultimately staged. The historic attention paid to this American premiere is due in large part to the persons among its cast and crew. Leading roles were filled by Buckminster Fuller, Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham and Isaac Rosenfeld (along with student William Schrauger and adolescent community member Alvin Charles Few); the sets were designed by the de Koonings; Cage performed the accompaniment that Satie had composed for the play, and the entire production was overseen by drama instructor Helen Livingston and then student-instructor Arthur Penn. Apparently the success of the performance at the College led to some hopeful fantasies about a New York performance. However, no one involved with the production at the time had any influence in the New York theater scene, and although the sets and costumes were actually transported to New York, they went unused and at some point were lost altogether.
In order to quell discontent with Cage’s choice of composers for his concert series, Albers asked Cage to enhance his performances with brief ten-minute pre-lectures, and for a time, the somewhat unorthodox Satie Festival coexisted peacefully with Bodky’s more conventional and certainly more Germanic Saturday night series.[xl] At some point in the middle of the summer, however, Cage preceded one of his concerts with a lecture entitled, “Defense of Satie.”[xli] The presentation began well enough, but toward its conclusion, four or five sentences were enough to provoke the German musicians in the audience. Depicting Beethoven, in whose works harmony was the essence of structure, as a polar opposite to Satie and Webern, in whose works Cage contended temporality was the structural base, he then postulated:
The question of structure is so basic, and it is so important to be in agreement about it, that one must ask now: Was Beethoven right or are Webern and Satie right? I answer immediately and unequivocally, Beethoven was in error, and his influence, which has been as extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music … Beethoven represents the most intense lurching of the boat away from its natural even keel. The derivation of musical thought from his procedures has served not only to put us at the mercy of the waves, but to practically shipwreck the art on an island of decadence.[xlii]
Accounts of what then ensued encompass a full spectrum, from anti-climactic ennui to pseudo-fascist melodrama; Noland, for example, does not recall any part of the Satie-Beethoven controversy at all, dismissively stating, “things like that happened all the time.”[xliii] Cage recalled the event as being “like a bomb falling in the place.”[xliv] Harris records the memories of summer instructor Winslow Ames, who claimed that following Cage’s lecture, “the students ‘practically burned all Beethoven recordings … sheet music, and so forth.’ It was what he described as his first exposure to ‘the extreme party-line willingness’ he found typical of the counterculture.”[xlv][xlvi] Fiore, on the other hand, brands Ames’s account an utter fiction.[xlvii] Bodky himself once retaliated mildly, performing take-offs on Satie at the piano[xlviii] and giving a concert of later Beethoven quartets, preceded by his own lecture that “spoke out against those who would disparage Beethoven’s stature. Cage responded by saying it hadn’t been his intention to disparage anybody; he had merely explained why he – and most modern composers – took inspiration from Satie (and Bach) rather than from Beethoven.”[xlix]
The dining hall was a frequent setting for the ironing out of campus controversies, and apparently the reception of Cage’s remarks was such that even meals could not be taken in peace; Patsy Lynch recalled people standing up during meals and making declarations about music.[l] Duberman reconstructs an even more dramatic scenario, describing how Black Mountain’s Rector, William Levi:
… tinkled his glass at lunch one day to say, with an earnest face, that a division had arisen with the faculty of such serious proportions that it had proved impossible to resolve through normal means of discussion or arbitration … He therefore proposed, in his authority as rector, a duel between the contending parties: both sides were to repair to the kitchen, where the Beethovenites would be armed with cold Wiener schnitzel, the supporters of Satie with flaming crêpe suzettes, and a duel to the death ensue. Some kind of food throwing spree did then erupt, in which “some thirty people got themselves pretty messed up.”[li]
Like Ames’s book-burning anecdote, Fiore considers this account exaggerated;[lii] W. P. Jennerjahn also modifies Duberman’s tale considerably:
The contretemps between the Bodky forces and the Cage forces I couldn’t really take seriously, and I feel Bill Levi struck the right note in bringing out the farcical nature of the affair. But between Cage and Bodky I feel Cage, being a much looser character, was able to play a role against the more academic Bodky. I do not remember a food fight, although there may have been a “tea-bag twirl” which happened on other occasions at other periods when the mood struck certain instigators. This latter practice was ended through announcements by Elizabeth [Jennerjahn] and some of her dancers reminding the revelers (and smokers) that dance rehearsal invariably took over in the dining hall immediately after the food clearing.[liii]
From the context of Cage’s prose works, his passing remarks on Beethoven in “Defense of Satie” appear midway in a series of comments made on this composer between 1937 and 1958. To Cage, Beethoven stood as an anti-hero, the symbol of the typical “self-expressive” artist, and from his earliest aesthetic statements, he thwarted this symbol as best he could through a variety of means. In 1937, for example, he recast Beethoven’s very image as raw material for contemporary composition:
It is now possible for composers to make music directly, without the assistance of intermediary performers. Any design repeated often enough on a sound track is audible. 280 circles per second on a sound track will produce one sound, whereas a portrait of Beethoven repeated 50 times per second on a sound track will have not only a different pitch but a different sound quality.[liv]
During the 40s and early 50s, Cage expressed his disdain for Beethoven more directly, dismissing him on several occasions as “nothing but a roll of toilet paper … ”[lv] or citing off-handedly “an LP of Beethoven’s Quartet Opus Such and Such.”[lvi] In an imaginary exchange with Satie from 1958, he attributed one negative critique of Beethoven to Satie: “I am in complete agreement with our enemies. It’s a shame that artists advertise. However, Beethoven was not clumsy in his publicity. That’s how he became known, I believe.”[lvii] That same year, Cage pitted his own aesthetic agenda against Romantic convention by asking succinctly, “Are sounds just sounds or are they Beethoven?”[lviii] Less obviously, the figure of Beethoven may be sublimated in one of the motivic references of Cage’s prose, a reference that may have been drawn from the writings of R. H. Blyth:
Naturally, when the distinction between the poetical and unpoetical subject disappears (to attain this state is the true practical aim of a poet) foul is fair and fair is foul, to the pure all things are pure, nothing is unclean.
The sound of someone
Blowing his nose with his hand;
The scent of the plum flowers!
The sound of the nose-blowing, the scent of the flowers, which is more beautiful? The first may remind us of a long-lost, beloved friend; the second, of the death of a child who fell from the boughs of a plum-tree. Beethoven may have got the motif of the first movement of the Fifth Symphony from someone’s blowing his nose.[lix]
To have something be a masterpiece you have to have enough time to classify it and make it classical. But with contemporary music there is no time to do anything like classifying. All you can do is suddenly listen in the same way that when you catch a cold all you can do is suddenly sneeze. Unfortunately European thinking has brought it about that actual things that happen such as suddenly listening or suddenly sneezing are not profound.[lx]
In the long run, Cage finally became reconciled with Beethoven by purging himself of his own prejudices – he claimed. But in typical fashion, this new “appreciation” was subversive at its core:
Several other kinds of sound have been distasteful to me: the works of Beethoven, Italian bel canto, jazz, and the vibraphone. I used Beethoven in the Williams Mix, jazz in the Imaginary Landscape Number V, bel canto in the recent part for voice in the Concert for Piano and Orchestra. It remains for me to come to terms with the vibraphone. In other words, I find my taste for timbre lacking in necessity, and I discover that in the proportion I give it up, I find I hear more and more accurately. Beethoven is now a surprise, as acceptable to the ear as a cowbell.[lxi]
While Cage’s attitude toward Beethoven has a long history, his remarks on this composer in “Defense of Satie” have sometimes been misrepresented as one of the lecture’s central themes, an interpretation based more on the romanticized tales of the lecture’s aftershocks than on its intrinsic contents. To Harris, for instance, this lecture derives its historical importance for being “more than a thesis on the structure of music,” representing “a declaration of war on the assumed supremacy of the Germanic tradition that dominated American musical life, including the music program at Black Mountain.”[lxii] However, if focus is trained on the actual document, it becomes apparent that “Defense of Satie” is more than an artistic challenge to be fought out over a transient summer. Instead, together with his lecture, “A Composer’s Confessions” , delivered at Vassar only a few months prior, and “Forerunners of Modern Music” , “Defense of Satie” is one of Cage’s earliest extant compositional statements, an important thesis on the structure of music that defines the terms of Cage’s aesthetic of the period.
“Defense of Satie” opens by identifying an artistic duality between convention (i.e., a commonly agreed upon tradition represented by “the unanimity of opinion out of which arose a Gothic cathedral, an opera by Mozart, a Balinese combination of music and dance”) and individuality:
I suspect that our admiring two opposite positions, that of the traditional artist and that of the individualist, indicates a basic need in us for this pair of opposites. We need, I imagine, an art that is paradoxical in that it reflects both unanimity of thought and originality of thought.[lxiii]
The greater part of this lecture then describes what Cage contended are the four basic elements of any musical work – structure, form, method and material – and postulates on which of these should, in fact, be “agreed upon,” and which should be left to individual choice. In “Forerunners of Modern Music,” Cage’s definitions for these terms are straightforward:
Structure in music is its divisibility into successive parts from phrases to long sections. Form is content, the continuity. Method is the means of controlling the continuity from note to note. The material of music is sound and silence. Integrating these is composing.[lxiv]
In “Defense of Satie,” Cage makes frequent use of biological and literary metaphors in defining these same terms. Like all humans, for example, all musical works have the same basic structure, i.e., “parts that are clearly separate but that interact in such a way as to make a whole.” However, each entity takes on a unique form, which gives to a structure the quality of “being alive;” in humans, form is expressed in the different ways people live. Method in music (“a continuity producing means”) refers to its organizational system; “In poetry this is syntax; in life it is that observance of an orderly way of living that makes one to some extent dependable.” Outward appearances are dubbed material; “In poetry, to continue the analogy, this is language. … In life, we have physical differences and we wear different clothes.”
Of these four elements, only Structure constitutes “Law,” and Cage places this sole parameter outside of the acceptable applications of individuality in music: “There can be no right making of music that does not structure itself from the very roots of sound and silence,” he states. It is from this context that he draws his comparisons between Beethoven, Satie, and Webern as supportive illustrations. He rephrases this same argument (without Beethoven) in “Forerunners of Modern Music:”
The aspect of composition that can be properly discussed with the end in view of general agreement is structure, for it is devoid of mystery. Analysis is at home here. Schools teach the making of structures by means of classical harmony. Outside schools, however (e.g., Satie and Webern), a different and correct structural means reappears: one based on lengths of time.[lxv]
As Cage concluded in “Defense of Satie,” material, method and form differed from structure in that they could be infinite in their variety. “Individuality” in any one of these parameters, therefore could be appropriate: “Form cannot and ought not be agreed upon: It is purely a matter of the heart. … Method and materials may or may not be agreed upon, and it is a matter of indifference whether they are or not.”[lxvi]
While Cage was engaged in aesthetic debate throughout the summer, Cunningham enjoyed a position at Black Mountain that went basically free from challenge. He was, after all, the entire Dance Department, and there was no consistent tradition of dance-related activities at the College from which to draw comparisons. He was not as free to interact with other community members on the social level, however, due to his own rigorous teaching and rehearsal schedule (his was the only class that summer to meet six days a week), but he still managed to meet a large portion of the community through his classes, attracting both students and staff with his own enthusiastic manner. W.P. Jennerjahn recalls:
During the summers when dance was prominent, the whole school community was caught up in the activity. Very few of us, it seemed, were not whirling about in the dining hall. “When Merce dances, everybody dances.” Merce was able to engage people who hadn’t danced, or who hadn’t thought about dancing, to throw themselves into the activity he generated.[lxvii]
On August 20th, Cunningham gave a recital along with Louise Lippold and Sara Hamill, with Cage at the piano. Previously performed works on the program included Totem Ancestor, a Cunningham solo from 1942; Root of an Unfocus, a Cunningham solo choreographed in 1944; and a repeat performance of the Monkey Dances that Cunningham had choreographed for The Ruse of Medusa production of the week before. Of the four remaining dances, three were dance premieres; all four, however, premiered new music by Cage: A Diversion, meant to refer to “the legend of Krishna and the Gopis” and danced by all three dancers to Cage’s Suite for Toy Piano; Dream, which, while not a dance premiere, used new music by Cage; Orestes, about which Cage and Cunningham would later remember little;[lxviii] and In a Landscape, danced by Lippold, who had created the choreography earlier that spring.[lxix]
1949 – 1951
For Erwin Bodky, the summer session of 1949 was far more peaceful than the one previous, highlighted by an emphasis on Baroque music that culminated in a three-day Bach festival. It would be Bodky’s last summer at Black Mountain College. Although Cage did not return to Black Mountain College until the summer of 1952, he was scarcely forgotten during his four-year absence, and lessons lingered with his Black Mountain College students beyond his short course on the Structure of Music. At Cage’s urging, for instance, Fiore rescored one of his four-part compositions from the summer class during the following fall, and the piece was read two years later by Black Mountain College’s special Summer Session Quartet.[lxx] W.P. Jennerjahn, too, continued to compose sporadically and in one later hommage á Cage prepared a piano to accompany a poetry reading at the College.
In the fall of 1949, plans were already in motion for the following summer session that would center on music and dance, with the possible addition of drama and stage design. Cage and Cunningham were both invited back, as were Lippold and de Kooning. All of these declined, though. Cunningham suggested Katherine Litz as a suitable dance instructor,[lxxi] inadvertently supplying the College with its director of dance for the next three summers, as well as for the 1951-52 academic year. The summer session of 1950 was also highlighted by the “Summer Session String Quartet,” consisting of Vollmer Hetherington, Robert Brink, Eleftherios Eleftherakis, and Arthur Fiedler, who performed a series of contemporary music concerts, including works by Bartók, Britten, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Villa-Lobos, and Walton. On August 12th, the ensemble performed Cage’s recently completed String Quartet in Four Parts, pairing it with the Op. 70 Quartet of Ernst Toch, an event constituting yet another Cage premiere at Black Mountain College.[lxxii]
For the 1951 summer session (a session now remembered as the “Summer of Photography,” in reference to three eminent photographers who served as visiting faculty), the College considered several musicians as potential instructors, including Isaac Nemiroff, then a staff member of Stefan Wolpe’s Contemporary Music School in New York, and Henry Cowell, both of whom declined. Morton Feldman was also discussed as a possibility, no doubt at Cage’s recommendation. But he was viewed with some amount of trepidation, at least on the part of Litz, with whom Feldman would have to work.
If and when Morty Feldman … visits, as he might, please try to find out if he can really play the piano. I have a notion he can’t. Also I’d love to have you hear some of his compositions which will help you judge whether or not he’d be OK for our purpose. My guess is that he’s too strange to reach the majority at this time as teacher and composer.[lxxiii]
Ultimately, the College invited Lou Harrison, who had been recommended by Cage as well. Harrison had already visited the College several times in 1950, and as Mary Emma Harris explains, Harrison’s personal wellbeing was one of the prime motivations behind Cage’s nomination; “Harrison was recovering from a nervous breakdown, and Cage, who had been helping care for him, was eager to find him a less stressful situation than city life.”[lxxiv] Like Litz, following the 1951 summer session, Harrison stayed on at Black Mountain College as a permanent faculty member.
For the summer dance program of 1951, Litz asked the College to subsidize her regular accompanist in New York. Faced with only a modest budget, the College felt the possibility unlikely, but Litz and summer session directors ultimately developed a plan in which her pianist could come to Black Mountain College during the month of August, playing for a dance recital by Litz and perhaps even giving a concert or two of his own. In exchange, he would enjoy free room and board but no pay, the admission receipts from Litz’s recital going toward his return bus ticket to New York.[lxxv] Upon David Tudor’s arrival, Black Mountain College was given a preview of a new John Cage, whose piano works were no longer highlighted by their preparations but by their chance-compositional procedures. On August 2nd, he accompanied Litz in a dance recital that included music by Harrison and Feldman. On the 19th, he introduced Black Mountain College to the “New York School” in a solo recital consisting of: Schoenberg’s Five Pieces, Op. 23; Wolpe’s Battle Piece for Piano [1943-47]; Feldman’s Three Intermissions ; Wladimir Woronoff’s Sonnet pour Dallapiccola ; Christian Wolff’s Four Pieces for Prepared Piano ; Cage’s Music of Changes, Part I ; Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata [1946-48]; and the Webern Variations, Op. 27.[lxxvi]
By 1952, signs of Black Mountain’s imminent decline were becoming more and more obvious, even to its summer visitors. The last two summers, for example, had included abortive attempts to sponsor international seminars for the American Friends Service Committee as well as an International Institute designed by the College itself. Maintaining a steady faculty had become a substantial task, and summer session staff searches now had ulterior motives, seeking those “who might continue after the summer: Weaving, Pottery, Graphic Arts. Further faculty members might be in Sculpture and Painting.”[lxxvii] Because of financial constraints, summer session salaries had been reduced by twenty percent (i.e., from 100 to 80 dollars a month), making it all the more difficult to attract potential faculty to the campus.[lxxviii]
The 1952 summer session was to include painting, dance, writing, photography, drama, ceramics, weaving, and printing press arts, with a special emphasis on music, for which the College planned to invite multiple guest artists. The art positions were difficult to fill, as De Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko all turned down invitations to instruct painting. Cage and Cunningham had already been invited to attend the summer session in February by Harrison, now the director of the Music Department, and they quickly wired back, stating that they could only stay for last half of the session in August. Finally, both the music and art positions were filled on a month-by-month basis; July featured courses by Stefan Wolpe and Jack Tworkov, while Cage and Franz Kline served as instructors in August. Tudor also returned to the College, as did former student Robert Rauschenberg (though in Rauschenberg’s case, not in any official capacity).[lxxix]
Black Mountain College had undergone some profound artistic transformations since the summer of 1948. Albers had left in 1949, and through the College’s new director, Charles Olson, creative writing was slowly surpassing the plastic arts as the focus of the school’s curriculum. The school was also less insulated and had begun to demonstrate an interest in moving beyond itself and participating in American artistic life at large. The Black Mountain College Review, a journal of creative writing, had been founded, and Harrison established a short-lived Black Mountain Music Press, the sole publication of which turned out to be Cage’s Haiku, printed in September of 1952.[lxxx]
Cage and Cunningham had changed as well since the summer of 1948, and when they arrived at Black Mountain in the summer of 1952, they were far better known figures (as was Rauschenberg, for that matter, who was gathering national attention for the recent showing of his all-white canvasses at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York). Cage, of course, was now deeply involved with East Asian philosophy, and the I Ching had become his compositional generator of choice. He had also moved beyond the clear-cut rhythmic structures that he had taught to students four years ago and was concentrating instead on the painstaking construction of the chance-designed Williams Mix, a work for magnetic tape commissioned by Paul and Vera Williams, whom he had met at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1948. Controversy was still part and parcel of Cage’s presence at Black Mountain College, however, and while Bodky had left the College three years ago, the aesthetic conflicts of 1948 were supplanted in the summer of 1952 by subtler undercurrents of hostility, particularly from Stefan Wolpe, with whom Cage held a longstanding enmity.[lxxxi] As one alumnus recalls:
[Wolpe] was truly one of the European personalities in residence that summer. And before it was over many of us thought of him as – and even called him – our “Far-out Beethoven.” … I remember precisely how warmly he felt toward the musician and composer Lou Harrison, and how distant he kept himself from John Cage … [Wolpe was] easily the most moody, volatile, and temperamental of all that summer faculty.[lxxxii]
In the course of that August, Cunningham’s ability to teach was substantially hindered by an inflamed appendix and its consequent burdensome icepack. He did manage to give one dance recital, for which there is no extant program. In addition, he and M. C. Richards jointly created the summer’s theatrical farce, entitled Occupe-toi de Brunhilde! Both Harris and Anna Hines provide sketchy details for this event: student Nick Cernovich recalls “carrying on a comic dialogue and dancing with purple paint in his hair.”[lxxxiii] The sources for the production were “Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Georges Feydeau’s farce Occupe-toi d’Amélie! (1908), which Richards had seen either on stage or in the film version. A large swan was constructed for the set. The cast included Hilda Morley [Wolpe’s wife], Franz Kline, and Cernovich, and the performance included dances and songs.”[lxxxiv]
Tudor was an especially active member of the Music Department that summer, giving at least two concerts of his own and accompanying Cunningham’s sporadic classes, Litz’s dance recital, and a variety of other performances. On August 9, for instance, he gave a solo recital consisting of Feldman’s Extensions no. 3, Wolff’s For Piano, and Cage’s now completed Music of Changes. That same day, he accompanied a graduation dance examination, with Cunningham chairing the examining committee. Three days later, he offered another solo program consisting of: Wolpe’s Presto Furioso; Cage’s Two Pastorales; Boulez’s First Sonata; Feldman’s Intermissions nos. 4 and 5; Wolpe’s Passacaglia; Cage’s August 12, 1952; and Cowell’s The Banshee.[lxxxv]
Cage had been asked to teach composition, a request that delighted him. “I was flattered by this and pleased to go … because no one at that time, no school would have dreamed of asking me to teach composition.”[lxxxvi] At the outset of the course, however, he explained that students would not write their own pieces but would help him realize his own Williams Mix instead, cutting and splicing bits of magnetic tape according to his specifications. Skeptical of the value of such work, not a single person enrolled; mildly put off in return, Cage was less than willing to teach anything about music. However, Cage was still far from sedentary, hosting a late-night reading of the entire Huang-Po Doctrine of Universal Mind, as well as giving a solo performance of the Sonatas and Interludes on the 16th. While this was the third performance of this work at Black Mountain College,[lxxxvii] the programs for the 1952 performance were unique. Designed as cigarette papers and accompanied by ample supplies of tobacco, they were distributed at the door; ashtrays were placed on each seat, and audience members smoked their programs as Cage played.
In general, Cage and Cunningham were not nearly as involved with Black Mountain College in 1952 as they had been during their 1948 summer visit. Both paid only partial attention to Black Mountain College, earning extra income by teaching concurrently in nearby Burnsville as part of the summer faculty for the Woman’s College of the North Carolina School of the Arts that was in session from July 30th to August 19th. At Burnsville, Cunningham taught a survey course of contemporary dancers; Cage not only instructed a course in “Choreography for Large Groups and Long Dances” but was also one of the school’s vocal coaches. The summer’s activities in Burnsville concluded with a production of Brigadoon, for which Cunningham choreographed and Cage served as co-director of music along with William DeVeny, a professor from the College.[lxxxviii]
While Cage was occupied with Lerner and Loewe at Burnsville, he concerned himself with a different kind of theater at Black Mountain College, and if he was unwilling to teach anything about music, he still shared his new fascination with the works of the surrealist poet, actor, director and theatrical theorist Antonin Artaud [1896-1948]. Among Artaud’s works, Cage was most familiar with The Theatre and Its Double , a collection of manifestoes that codified Artaud’s theoretical ideas. He and Tudor had both discovered this work through Boulez,[lxxxix] and they in turn shared it with M.C. Richards, who ultimately translated it, as she had Satie’s Le piège de Méduse in the summer of 1948.
Many passages in The Theatre and Its Double ring out as especially sympathetic to Cage’s own artistic perspective. Artaud’s advancement of a theater in which each event was to enjoy an autonomous centricity and independence from other events, for example, paralleled Cage’s own artistic predilections toward “interpenetration” that had developed in the course of his studies of East Asian philosophy. Artaud also railed against an established canon that was founded within an aesthetic that drew self-aggrandizing boundaries between art and life:
… we can begin to form an idea of culture, an idea which is first of all protest. A protest against the senseless constraint imposed upon the idea of culture by reducing it to a sort of inconceivable Pantheon, … A protest against the idea of culture as distinct from life.[xc]
We must have done with this idea of masterpieces reserved for a self-styled elite and not understood by the general public … masterpieces of the past are good for the past: they are not good for us … once and for all, enough of this closed, egoistic, and personal art.[xci]
The contemporary theater is decadent because it has lost the feeling on the one hand for seriousness and on the other for laughter … because it has lost a sense of real humor, a sense of laughter’s power of physical and anarchic dissociation. Because it has broken away from the spirit of profound anarchy which is at the root of all poetry.[xcii]
The ultimate purpose of Artaud’s theater clearly echoes that which Cage had pronounced for music: “What is important is that, by positive means, the sensitivity is put in a state of deepened and keener perception, and this is the very object of the magic and the rites of which the theater is only a reflection.”[xciii] In more aggressive terms, Artaud called for the “return to myth and magic, for a ruthless exposure of the deepest conflicts of the human mind, for a ‘Theatre of Cruelty.’”[xciv] As M.C. Richards summarizes:
Artaud says that the theater, like alchemy, has a spiritual double. As the alchemists were trying to make material gold by processes which were more than physical, so the theater tries to make spiritual gold in a poetry of space. The theater, he says, is an exceptional power of social redirection and renewal if it keeps faith with the hard facts of life, which he says, are metaphysical, and have to do with the great ideas of Being and Becoming. Because of the public’s hardness of hearing, as it were, he calls upon the theater to make use of its exceptional physical resources to penetrate the spectator’s guard of habit and indolence. Society will not be changed until the individual is changed. He will only be changed, says Artaud, by surrendering to an experience of the gods.[xcv]
The means of this “surrender” entail a theatrical “poetry” that takes into account “all the means of expression utilizable on the stage, such as music, dance, plastic art, pantomime, mimicry, gesticulation, intonation, architecture, lighting, and scenery.”[xcvi] Just as Cage had advanced an all-inclusive auditory experience through the elevation of “silence,” Artaud contended that true theater embraced “everything that occupies the stage, everything that can be manifested and expressed materially on a stage and that is addressed first of all to the senses instead of being addressed primarily to the mind as is the language of words.”[xcvii] The interaction of these elements achieved an ideal theater in which “violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theater as by a whirlwind of higher forces.”[xcviii]
Artaud further rejected the traditional notion of “communication” in theater; his aesthetic relegated dialogue to the background, for instance, with the aim of amplifying “everything specifically theatrical, i.e., everything that cannot be expressed in speech, in words, or if you prefer, everything that is not contained within the dialogue.”[xcix] Lacking “meaning” in the traditional sense, the resultant theatrical product was ennobled as “an immediate gratuitousness provoking acts without use [cf. Huang-Po’s “purposelessness”] or profit.”[c]
On one particular afternoon, Cage drew up the plans for the performance of a work based in large part on Artaud’s aesthetic principles; the resultant work was performed that same day. As Cage recalled:
It was an idea which developed in conversation with David Tudor… and our ideas were so electric at the time that once the idea hit my head, I immediately then implemented it. This was the thing that Tudor couldn’t do very well, but I could, because of my experience as a composer … I would like to give David Tudor equal credit for it – which is not yet done by historians.[ci]
In addition to his abstract inspiration, Artaud also provided a fairly concrete blueprint for the physical dimensions of the piece. In the interior of the hall, he detailed:
… the public will be seated in the middle of the room, on the ground floor, on mobile chairs which will allow them to follow the spectacle which will take place all around them. In effect, the absence of a stage in the usual sense of the word will provide for the deployment of the action in the four corners of the room.[cii]
In basic adherence to these directions, Cage configured the chairs in Black Mountain’s dining hall as four triangular groups all facing inward, two aisles dividing them as crossing lines would divide a rectangle at its corners. Cage’s entitled his forty-five minute work Black Mountain Piece, and the work’s first (and only) performance dominates Black Mountain College accounts of that summer, frequently interpreted as the prototypical multi-media “Happening.”
Artaud’s vision of an ideal theater could almost be mistaken for a description of Cage’s piece:
In this spectacle the sonorisation is constant: sounds, noises, cries are chosen … light is interposed in its turn … not created merely to add color or to brighten, and which brings it power, influence, suggestions with it … after sound and light there is action, and the dynamism of action: here the theater, far from copying life, puts itself whenever possible in communication with pure forces.[ciii]
Black Mountain College accounts of Black Mountain Piece are highlighted by their disparities; as a variety of sources have described:
- Cage was located: standing on a step ladder/sitting on a step ladder/at a raised lecturn to one side of the room; where he was reading the Bill of Rights/a lecture from Meister Eckhart/the Declaration of Independence;
- Charles Olson read poetry from a ladder/was “planted” in the audience, standing up and saying a line or two at the appropriate times/talked or laughed on cue from the audience;
- Hanging from the rafters were: Rauschenberg’s white paintings/Rauschenberg’s black paintings/a recent painting by Franz Kline;
- Nick Cernovich (and perhaps dance student Tim LaFarge) projected movies and slides on the walls. Some recall images of the school cook, then the sun, and, as the image moved from the ceiling down the wall, the sun sank; others are sure only abstract images were used; [civ]
- Merce Cunningham danced around, in the middle of, and through the audience (a dog apparently joined in and followed Cunningham around for a time);
- David Tudor played piano and/or a radio;
- M.C. Richards read poetry (perhaps Edna St. Vincent Millay); and may have recited from a ladder as well;
- Robert Rauschenberg played scratchy records on an old wind-up phonograph with horn loudspeaker;
- student Jay Watt performed a musical work in a corner using some of Lou Harrison’s Asian instruments;
- at the conclusion of the event, cups, which had been placed upon all the seats before the performance began, were filled with coffee by girls (or in some accounts, boys) dressed in white. Many of the cups had been dirtied in the course of the event with ashes and cigarette butts, but were filled with coffee nonetheless.
The historic relevance of this performance was far from obvious at the time, and in terms of Black Mountain College’s history, the Black Mountain Piece was not entirely unique. As Harris points out, the Jennerjahns had instructed “Light Sound Movement Workshops” for the three years prior to the 1952 summer session, in which the class:
… created short theater pieces using projected slides, painted backdrops, music, dance, and, at times, verbal texts or themes. … Although the performances were undoubtedly often amateurish, the study of theater through the creation of original performance pieces rather than the production of plays or even the writing of original expository scripts represented a significant change in the approach to the theater.[cv]
Joseph Fiore, a faculty member of the College by 1952, was away for much of the summer but recalls that upon his return, nobody even mentioned the performance to him; “There were so many happenings that just ‘happened’ at Black Mountain that weren’t called that,” he commented, “just incidents of daily living.” Consequently, Fiore also challenges Harris’s retrospective interpretation of this performance as the “culminating” point of that summer session; “I know I didn’t see it,” he qualified somewhat defensively, “but she didn’t either.”[cvi] W. P. Jennerjahn puts a provocative spin on the subject of Black Mountain College precursors to the “Happening” of 1952, turning to the summer of 1948; still, all roads lead to Cage:
It is believed that ‘happenings’ began at BMC … One of the early events was, perhaps, an early example of this form of entertainment. The music of Satie, played on two pianos inside the open window of one of the cottages on campus while the audience sat on the ground outside, or strolled about.[cvii]
Black Mountain Piece, as well as Cage’s other works of the period, also reflects a shift in the aesthetic stance that he had expressed at Black Mountain College four years ago in “Defense of Satie,” and while still employing the terms structure, form, method and material, his attitude toward their relative value had been altered considerably as early as 1950.[cviii] Most notably, Cage’s new chance procedures and appreciation of East Asian philosophy had rendered the notions of structure and form obsolete. As has been described, structure was originally the single parameter that Cage had placed outside the realm of acceptable “individuality,” as all music was properly based in the temporal rather than the harmonic. By 1950, however, this attitude was supplanted by an appreciation for the greater, uninterruptable temporal system that characterized simple existence. In “Lecture on Nothing” [c. 1950], Cage contrasts his previous conception of intentionally created structure (represented by his “rhythmic structures”) against this larger brand of meta-structure:
How could I better tell what structure is than simply to tell about this, this talk which is contained within a space of time approximately forty minutes long? That forty minutes has been divided into five large parts, and each unit is divided likewise.[cix]
Structure without life is dead. But Life without structure is unseen. Pure life expresses itself within and through structure. Each moment is absolute, alive and significant. Blackbirds rise from a field making a sound delicious beyond compare.[cx]
Cage’s previous application of form had also been rendered irrelevant through his new appreciation of “continuity” as a series of events each occurring within the “Now-moment.” As he explained in the “Lecture on Something” [c. 1951-52]:
It is perfectly clear that walking along the river is one thing and writing music is another and being interrupted while writing music is still another and a backache too. They all go together and it’s a continuity that is not a continuity that is being clung to or insisted upon. The moment it becomes a special continuity of I am composing and nothing else should happen, then the rest of life is nothing but a series of interruptions, pleasant or catastrophic as the case may be. The truth, however, is that it is more like Feldman’s music—anything may happen and it all does go together. There is no rest of life. Life is one. Without beginning, without middle, without ending.[cxi]
Cage’s direct participation in Black Mountain College life came to an end in the summer of 1952, although he did visit for one or two weeks in the summer of 1953, when both Cunningham and Tudor returned for the summer session. The focus of this session was on art, with an emphasis on ceramics, although a formidable music staff had been assembled as well, including Wolpe, Tudor, and Josef Marx. Throughout the summer, Tudor performed in a number of concerts. His programs continued to educate his audiences in the repertory of New Music, and in particular, the latest works by the New York School. Works included: Messiaen’s Modes de valeurs et des intensités; Wolpe’s Battle Piece, Two Pieces for Piano and Displaced Spaces; Webern’s Op. 27 Variations and the Three Short Pieces for Cello and Piano; Wolff’s For Piano II; Earle Brown’s Three Pieces and Perspectives; Cowell’s Tiger; Boulez’s Second Sonata; Cage’s Music for Piano 4-20; and Feldman’s Intermission no. 5. Tudor also served as pianist for various chamber music recitals, performing works from the more traditional repertoire, such as Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Ravel. Cunningham arrived in the summer of 1953 with seven of his students from New York, sacrificing his salary in order that the College might take care of the dancer’s needs. Over the course of the summer, Black Mountain College became the official birthplace of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.[cxii]
The dual issues of the impact of any individual upon the direction of Black Mountain College’s intellectual and artistic life and, in contrast, that of the College’s legacy to selected individuals in the course of their development, feature prominently in any study. In the case of Cage and Cunningham, their contributions to Black Mountain College extend far beyond their sporadic appearances. Cunningham’s dance activities during the summer of 1948, for instance, are readily recognized as the beginning of a dance program at Black Mountain College, and were so even at the time.[cxiii] Through subsequent recommendations made by Cage and Cunningham, the College would also owe them the summer contributions of Richard and Louise Lippold and Willem and Elaine de Kooning, as well as that of permanent staff members Lou Harrison and Katherine Litz. These tangible contributions of Cage and Cunningham to Black Mountain College’s intellectual life are enhanced by more personal testimonials. To Kenneth Noland, for example, the summer of 1948 propelled him onto a more mature artistic plane; the presence of figures like Cage, Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, and even Erwin Bodky, all deeply committed to their work, gave him a new awareness of the broad, serious, intellectual spectrum of art through which he began to take his own work far more seriously.[cxiv] Noland’s observations bear witness to the more general effect of visiting staff members at Black Mountain College, who consistently supplied an astonishing diversity of viewpoints to the students and staff of this intellectual and artistic way station.
The opportunities Black Mountain College afforded its visitors are sometimes harder to detail. Even its primitive facilities could work to artistic advantage. The official performance space, no more than the dining hall transformed, had no fixed seats or stage, and Cunningham valued it as the first wholly malleable performance space with which he had to work, facilitating seating in-the-round, the triangular arrangement of the Black Mountain Piece, etc. Assessments of the College’s impact on its visitors can be confused even within the observations of a single author. Duberman, for example, portrays Black Mountain College’s summer sessions as “utopias of a sort – places, that is, of good-humored vitality, of agreeable sights and sounds, of people making an effort to be pleasant and cooperative.”[cxv] He qualifies his remarks, though, by discounting what he contends were only tenuous relationships between the College and its summer faculty:
The artistic histories of the celebrities attached to Black Mountain for a few months in the summer (in some cases only a few weeks) are not nearly as intensely interwoven with the community’s own history as the common image would have it. To the contrary, the summer artists generally viewed Black Mountain simply as a nice spot in the country, a pleasant change of pace, an agreeable refuge. Nothing more; not in any profound sense an influence on the shape of their lives or work.[cxvi]
Apparently, however, there are some noteworthy exceptions to this generality, as Duberman himself testifies several pages later in the case of Cunningham, stating:
Cunningham considers his experiences at Black Mountain – during 1952, as well as 1953 – critical to his future development: not only did he create a number of important dances and the nucleus of his company there, but also he formed relationships that were to be of long duration and to have important impact on his work. Rauschenberg, for example, was to design sets, costumes, and sometimes even lighting for the Cunningham company for more than ten years; and Tudor to this day continues his involvement with the troupe. Just as Cage may be said to be the individual most responsible for the theoretical thrust that underlay the aesthetic of these men, Black Mountain may be said to be the place where that aesthetic received encouragement at a critical juncture (this is more true for Cunningham than for Cage himself). Black Mountain was the only place at that time Cunningham stressed when talking to me, where he could have been both welcomed and let alone to the extent that he was.[cxvii]
Black Mountain College was indeed significant for the “aloneness” it afforded to its visitors. Part of the historic fascination surrounding the College lies in the kind of paradoxical situation in which creative artists would purposefully forsake the stifling and alienating “isolation” of the city in order to enjoy “isolation” at Black Mountain College, a much different atmosphere which fostered creative freedom and allowed for the unhampered exchange of ideas between groups and individuals who would figure prominently into the artistic course of post-war America. The College’s seclusion from the distracting complexities of city living drew Cunningham to the site in 1953, where he officially established the Cunningham Dance Company. Likewise, despite Bodky and Wolpe, Cage surely appreciated Black Mountain College as a brief respite from his artistically embattled position in New York.
While the Black Mountain College experience in itself cannot be said to have steered Cage’s artistic outlook in any particular direction, it is nonetheless significant in purely historical terms. Among his works from the late 1940s and early 50s, the Sonatas and Interludes, Suite for Toy Piano, Dream, Orestes, In a Landscape, String Quartet in Four Parts and Black Mountain Piece were all premiered in the artistically tolerant environment of Black Mountain College, and several of these were composed at that same site. The Williams Mix is also a direct product of the friendships that Cage established while at the College. Moreover, however, these visits to Black Mountain College record the two different sets of aesthetic priorities that characterize Cage at either end of his most elemental transitional period during the late 40s and early 50s. Compared with the teaching of rhythmic structures and a lecture on his initial conceptions of structure, form, method and material in 1948, the historic points that describe Cage’s activities at Black Mountain College in 1952 – the chance-derived compositional procedures of the Williams Mix, the public reading of Huang Po and the incorporation of Artaud into an aesthetic scheme that relied heavily on East Asian rhetoric – emphasize as well the intensity of this transitional period.
In the context of Cage’s overall biography, the year 1954 cleaves the 50s in half as a year of substantial change. Several events suggest this periodization. In October of 1954, for example, Cage earned his first genuine “international” recognition, performing with Tudor at Donaueschingen, Cologne, Paris, Brussels, London, Zurich and Milan, unveiling the works of the New York School, including the early compositions for magnetic tape. Black Mountain College also serves as a periodic landmark in this case, as the College’s most significant legacy to Cage dates from 1954, when he relocated from New York City that August to participate in another semi-experimental community of sorts at Stony Point in Rockland County, NY. Stony Point’s roster of members included many figures from Black Mountain College – community founder Paul Williams and his wife Vera, M. C. Richards, Black Mountain College ceramists Karen Karnes and David Weinrib (both of whom Cage met in 1952) and Patsy Lynch Wood, who had participated in the Satie Festival of 1948. Cage’s subsequent artistic promotions in the mid-50s were reminiscent of his previous collaborative efforts at Black Mountain College, and even featured former Black Mountaineers. In 1954, he began marketing the concept of a “Package Festival in the Contemporary Arts,” a series of nine events featuring himself, Tudor, Cunningham, and Richards, from which a sponsor could pick and choose, tailoring a performance to whatever needs there may be. Cage lived at Stony Point for four years, returning to New York City in December of 1958. He always dismissed the idea of a Black Mountain College “influence” on his art, and perhaps this much is basically true. However, from an historic standpoint, much of his very “livingry” in the 1950s centers around relationships begun at Black Mountain College, and in that sense, his three brief visits to the College affected him profoundly, shaping his basic social circle in later years.
[i] Giddy Erwin Dyer, “A Black Mountain Anecdote,” Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology of Personal Accounts, Mervin Lane (ed.), Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990, 295.
[ii] Cage stated on several occasions that ever since the Black Mountain Piece, he considered all of his works “theater.” See “Conversation with John Cage” [c. 1967-68], John Cage: An Anthology, Richard Kostelanetz (ed.), New York: Da Capo Press, 1991, 27.
[iii] Mary Emma Harris, The Arts at Black Mountain College, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.
[iv] Martin Duberman, Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1972.
[v] Many of the school’s records are permanently lost, some taken by departing staff, and in general, the scattered nature of the extant materials suggests that the Black Mountain psyche was too involved in matters of the moment to be concerned with the methodical recording of the college’s activities for posterity. Documentation, therefore, is still far from complete.
[vi] Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, General Files, Box 39, “Summer Session 1951” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[vii] Mary Caroline Richards, The Crossing Point: Selected Talks and Writings. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1966, 156.
[viii] Kenneth Noland, interview with the author, April 6, 1993.
[ix] This story dates from the summer session of 1953, when Olson participated in Cunningham’s dance classes. As Cunningham recalled of Olson, “It wasn’t unhappy to watch him – he was something like a light walrus.” Duberman, 359.
[x] Alasdair Clayre, “The Rise and Fall of Black Mountain College,” The Listener, March 27, 1969, 412.
[xi] Mervin Lane, form letter dated Jan. 1, 1988, sent to BMC alumni in preparation for Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xii] Elaine de Kooning recalled of Black Mountain’s invitation, “All of our problems were solved. Seventy dollars would be used for Bill’s New York City studio rent for the two months we’d be away; thirty-six dollars would cover the rent for our coldwater flat on Carmine Street where I had my studio, leaving us ninety-four dollars and few expenses except art materials and cigarettes. We were overjoyed at the prospect of a vacation in the mountains.” See “De Kooning Memories,” reprinted in Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology. Originally published in Vogue, December, 1983.
[xiii] Cf. Duberman, p. 277.
[xiv] Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. VI, Box 7, “Inventories, 1947” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xv] This is not the Journal of Musicology that is published today, but an earlier journal produced out of Greenfield, Ohio, and of which only five volumes were published from 1939-43.
[xvi] Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, Box 22, “M III” file. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. Many of the recordings had been donated by Thomas Whitney Surette, another previous music instructor at Black Mountain.
[xvii] Heinrich Jalowetz (1882-1946); student of Adler and Schoenberg; premiered many works by Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Krenek, Hindemith, etc. He fled fascist Europe in 1938 and was an instructor of music at Black Mountain from the fall of 1939 until his death.
[xviii] Duberman Papers, “MC” file, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. Duberman acquired this item from M. C. Richards, who could not recall its author. This document appears to be a draft of the review finally published in the Black Mountain College Bulletin 6: iv (May 1948), 5.
[xix] There is no extant program for this particular dance recital. The works comprising Cunninghams’ repertory for the larger tour, however, included: The Open Road [Lou Harrison]; Root of an Unfocus [Cage]; Tossed as it is Untroubled [to Cage’s Meditation]; Invocation to Vahakn [Alan Hovhaness]; Experiences I and II [Cage’s music for part I; music by Livingston Gearheart for part II]; Idyllic Song [to the first movement of Satie’s Socrate]; Mysterious Adventure [Cage]; and Totem Ancestor [Cage].
[xx] Cage had also been interested in Jung during the 40s, and the quote above may well reflect this source as well. However, in general, Cage’s relation to Jung can be discussed in only the most abstract sense, and his rhetorical borrowings seldom derived from Jung’s terminology.
[xxi] For a representative telling of this particular story, see Cage’s 1974 interview with Mary Emma Harris, excerpted in Conversing with Cage, Richard Kostelanetz (ed.), New York: Limelight Editions, 1991, 14.
[xxii] It is unclear whether Cage knew Albers previously from the Chicago School of Design, where Cage taught in 1941.
[xxiii] Black Mountain College Bulletin (Supplement), Vol. 6, no. 3, April 1948, in Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, General Files, Box 27, “Publications, College, 1947-1948” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxiv] Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. III, Faculty Files, Box 1, “Former Faculty – Summer” File. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. “Sara” refers to Sara Hamill, one of Cunningham’s students.
[xxv] Based in part on a similar chart found in the Black Mountain College Papers, II – General Files, Box 27, “Publications, College, 1947-1948” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxvi] Erwin Bodky, letter to “Bill” [Levi?], April 22, 1948. Black Mountain College Papers, Faculty Files, Box 2, “Bodky, Erwin – Music” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxvii] Black Mountain College Research Project Papers (Mary Emma Harris), General File, Box 11.1, “1948 Summer Session in the Arts” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxviii] Duberman, p. 281.
[xxix] Harris, 146.
[xxx] To Cage and Cunningham, Black Mountain’s progressive educational philosophy was somewhat reminiscent of that of Nellie Cornish, founder of Seattle’s Cornish School. According to Cunningham, Cornish had felt that “anybody studying one art should come into contact with all of the others through the best possible people she could get as teachers.” (Merce Cunningham, The Dancer and the Dance: Merce Cunningham in Conversation with Jacqueline Lesschaeve. New York: Marion Boyars, 1985, 52.)
[xxxi] An extant class roster strongly implies that the Choreography course was cancelled, and no alumni/nae contacted for this study could recall such a course taking place.
[xxxii] Black Mountain College Research Project Papers, (M. E. Harris Collection) General File, Box 11.1, “1948 Summer Session in the Arts” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxxiii] W. P. Jennerjahn, letter to the author, April 6, 1993.
[xxxiv] Kenneth Noland, interview with the author, April 6, 1993.
[xxxv] Joseph Fiore, interview with the author, April 4, 1993.
[xxxvi] Various programs, Black Mountain College Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[xxxvii] Patsy Lynch Wood, letter to the author, March 30, 1993.
[xxxviii] Mary Emma Harris says that it is recorded that Cage considered this to be “Amateur” because he had yet to complete his collection of Satie scores.
[xxxix] ibid. The Satie Festival did not include a performance of Vexations. (Deborah Campana’s “Form and Structure in the Music of John Cage” [unpublished dissertation, Northwestern University, 1985], suggests that this piece was performed. See p. 59.) Mary Emma Harris also trips momentarily over Satie, explaining that after this second visit to Black Mountain in the summer of 1948, Cage traveled to Europe, where “he was to meet Satie and collect more of his scores.” [See Harris, 154.] (Satie, of course, had died in 1925.)
[xl] Mary Emma Harris says that Albers felt that the school—exposed mostly to Germanic music—would benefit from explanations of Satie.
[xli] John Cage, “Defense of Satie” , John Cage: An Anthology, 78-84.
[xlii] ibid., 81.
[xliii] Noland, interview with the author, April 6, 1993. In this respect, the Satie-Beethoven controversy was indeed only one of many such colorful episodes in Black Mountain’s history. While his artistic outlook might have been “original,” Cage’s ability to raise aesthetic ire did not make him unique to the College, which already had a long record of rivalries both petty and profound. Within a year, for example, far weightier schisms would occur between European and American faculty, resulting in Albers’ resignation and an overhauling of Black Mountain’s course and character.
[xliv] John Cage, telephone interview with Martin Duberman, April 26, 1969. The author would like to express a special thanks to Prof. Duberman who graciously shared edited transcripts of his interviews with both Cage and Cunningham.
[xlv] Harris, 154.
[xlvi] Mary Emma Harris says that Ames was not speaking literally. The students did not and would not have burned recordings and sheet music. He was describing the spirited conflict and divisions of the school. He said “practically”—not that they did.
[xlvii] Fiore, interview with the author, April 4, 1993.
[xlviii] Judith Davidoff, “Different Fare from Harvard Square,” Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology of Personal Accounts, 248.
[xlix] Duberman, p. 288. Materials derived from telephone interview with Cage, April 26, 1969. No program of this concert is extant.
[l] Patsy Lynch Wood, “Impressions of Music at BMC in the 1940s,” Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology of Personal Accounts, 101.
[li] Duberman, 288-9.
[lii] Fiore, interview with the author, April 4, 1993.
[liii] W. P. Jennerjahn, letter to the author, May 1, 1993.
[liv] John Cage. “The Future of Music: Credo” [c. 1937-40], Silence. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1961, 4.
[lv] John Cage, “Juilliard Lecture” , A Year From Monday. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, 109.
[lvi] John Cage, “Music Lovers’ Field Companion” , Silence, 275. This article is an intentionally humorous piece combining Cage’s interest in contemporary music and his newfound fascination with mushrooms.
[lvii] John Cage, “Erik Satie” , Silence, 81. This dialogue-essay involves a fictional conversation between Cage and Satie, and as Cage explains, Satie’s remarks are “ones he is reported to have made and excerpts from his writings.” The above is one such purported remark.
[lviii] John Cage, “Composition as Process” , Silence, 41.
[lix] Reginald Horace Blyth, Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1942, 50.
[lx] Cage, “Composition as Process,” 46. The author acknowledges Dr. William Futterman, who informally pointed out the similarities between these two passages.
[lxi] ibid., 30-31. The figure of Beethoven continues to crop up once in a while even in Cage’s published statements of the 1960s. “Listen, if you can, to Beethoven and get something out of it that’s not what he put in it. … We must get outselves into a situation where we can use our experience no matter what it is. We must take intentional material, like Beethoven, and turn it to non-intention.” (“Conversation with John Cage” [c. 1967-68], John Cage: An Anthology, 29.)
[lxii] Harris, 154.
[lxiii] Cage, “Defense of Satie,” 78.
[lxiv] John Cage, “Forerunners of Modern Music” , Silence, 62.
[lxv] ibid., 63.
[lxvi] Cage, “Defense of Satie,” 83-84.
[lxvii] W. P. Jennerjahn, letter to the author, May 1, 1993.
[lxviii] The manuscript collection in the Cage Estate has only sketches of this work.
[lxix] Program, Black Mountain College Project Papers, (M.E. Harris Collection), North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxx] Fiore, interview with the author, April 4, 1993.
[lxxi] In May of 1950, Cunningham made a one-week visit to Black Mountain, teaching classes in dance technique and composition. See n.a., “College Correspondence,” Dance Observer, March 1951, 45.
[lxxii] Program, John Cage Archives, “1950” file. Music Library of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
[lxxiii] Katherine Litz, letter to Betty Jennerjahn, February 23, 1951, Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, General Files, Box 39, “Summer Session Faculty Appts. 1951” File. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxxiv] Harris, 204. Harrison’s resume from this period states simply, “lost mind.” Lou Harrison, handwritten vita, Black Mountain College Papers, General Files, Box 14, “Harrison, Lou” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxxv] M. C. Richards, letter to David Tudor, May 15, 1951. Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, General Files, Box 39, “Summer Session Faculty Appts. 1951” File. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxxvi] Program, John Cage Archives, “1951” file. Music Library of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
[lxxvii] Wesley Huss, memo to faculty members of Black Mountain College, January 12, 1952, Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. I, Box 12, “Corres. and misc. papers attached to rough copies of minutes, 1950-1952” File, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxxviii] Joseph Fiore, letter (unsigned) to Willem de Kooning, February 4, 1952, Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, General Files, Box 39, “Summer Session 1952” File. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[lxxix] Cage and Cunningham met Rauschenberg during the summer of 1948. See Cunningham/Lesschaeve, 55.
[lxxx] Mary Emma Harris says that The Black Mountain College Review should be distinguished from the Black Mountain Review, later created by Olson and Creeley. The BMC Review was published in only one issue.
[lxxxi] Cage and Wolpe were all too aware of their differences. In a piano recital of the previous February, for instance, Tudor had performed works by both composers, yet as theatre director Judith Malina records, mutual respect was hardly the order of the day:
“… I sit beside Wolpe who, with his contingent, including a sullen, hostile Dylan Thomas, constitutes ‘the opposition.’
Cage and Tudor like the opposition to be assertive; it marks the work as being controversial. But it is another matter to sit beside them when listening to music.
Tudor plays the Webern ‘Variationen.’ John turns pages.
Henry Cowell’s ‘Banshee’ is a bit of play with the piano strings.
Cage’s two ‘pastorales.’ …
Wolpe and Dylan and their cohorts carry on, Wolpe making throaty sounds, passing notes, and entertaining his friends as loudly as possible.
How could I enjoy Wolpe’s piece now?
Serafina threatens to boo it and asks to change seats with me so that she may kick Wolpe in the shins. (Judith Malina. The Diaries of Judith Malina, 1947-1957. [Feb. 10, 1952 entry], New York: Grove Press, 1984, 209.)
[lxxxii] William McGee, “Some Memorable Personalities,” Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology of Personal Accounts, 293-94. In the subsequent summer of 1953, events at Black Mountain widened the rift between Cage and Wolpe even further (although Cage was in New York at the time). Filling in that summer for Harrison, who was on leave, Wolpe usurped Harrison’s position at the College altogether, and Harrison never returned to Black Mountain. Cage considered Wolpe’s actions a self-serving betrayal, and these and other events ensured the chronic, mutual irritation that characterized the relationship between Cage and Wolpe for several years to come.
[lxxxiii] Anna M. Hines,”Music at Black Mountain College: A Study in Experimental Ideas in Music.” DMA dissertation, Univ. of Missouri at Kansas City, 1973, 34. Cernovich’s recollections are recorded in a letter from him to Ms. Hines, July 12, 1972.
[lxxxiv] Harris, 231.
[lxxxv] Programs, Black Mountain College Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. The work August 12, 1952 is actually Water Music. In its earliest performances, this work was to derive its title from either the date or location of its performance. Tudor also performed this work at Princeton University’s Proctor Hall of the Graduate College on October 26, 1952; hence its title in the program, Proctor Hall, G.C.
[lxxxvi] John Cage, telephone interview with Martin Duberman, April 26, 1969.
[lxxxvii] Cage first premiered this work at the College in April of 1948, performing it again at the end of that year’s summer session. Cage’s recollections also include a performance of the Sonatas and Interludes at the home of a patron in Burnsville, although specifics are uncertain.
[lxxxviii] Program, John Cage Archives, “1952” file. Music Library of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.
[lxxxix] Cage’s first extant reference to Artaud dates from 1951 in a letter to Boulez, disclosing Artaud’s impact on his music as well as on his more overtly theatrical works: “… I have been reading a great deal of Artaud. (This because of you and through Tudor who read Artaud because of you.) I hope I have made a little clear to you what I am doing. I have the feeling of just beginning to compose for the first time. I will soon send you a copy of the first part of the piano piece [Music of Changes]. The essential underlying idea is that each thing is itself, that its relations with other things spring up naturally rather than being imposed by any abstraction on an “artist’s” part. (see Artaud on an objective synthesis).” [John Cage, letter to Pierre Boulez, May 22, 1951. In The Boulez-Cage Correspondence. Jean-Jacques Nattiez, et al. (ed.). Translated and edited by Robert Samuels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 96.]
[xc] Antonin Artaud, The Theater and its Double , translated by Mary Caroline Richards, New York: Grove Press, 1958, 9-10.
[xci] Artaud, 74-79.
[xcii] ibid., 42.
[xciii] ibid., 91. Cf. Cage’s often uttered quotation of Indian origin: “The purpose of art is to open the mind, leaving it susceptible to divine influence.”
[xciv] Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1961, 278.
[xcv] Richards, 60-61.
[xcvi] Artaud, 39.
[xcvii] ibid., 38.
[xcviii] ibid., 81-83.
[xcix] ibid., 37.
[c] ibid., 24.
[ci] Cage, interview with Martin Duberman, April 26, 1969.
[cii] Artaud, 96.
[ciii] ibid., 83.
[civ] Until recently, it was thought that no part of Black Mountain Piece survived. However, a single page containing the instructions for the projector operator(s) was recently uncovered in Cage’s estate. Consisting of only three sentences in Cage’s hand, the page directs:
Projector: Begin at 16 min.
Play freely until 23 min.
Begin again at 24:30
Play freely until 35:45
Begin at 38:20
Play freely until 44:25.
[cv] Harris, 208-10.
[cvi] Fiore, interview with the author, April 4, 1993.
[cvii] W. P. Jennerjahn, letter to the author, April 6, 1993.
[cviii] Part I of the 1958 essay “Composition as Process” recounts Cage’s changing aesthetic perspective toward these terms in detail. See Silence, 18-34.
[cix] John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing” [c. 1950], Silence, 111-112.
[cx] ibid., 113.
[cxi] John Cage, “Lecture on Something” [c. 1951-52], Silence, 134.
[cxii] Cunningham returned to Black Mountain College for the last time from Nov. 21 – Dec. 12, 1953 where he directed a special seminar on dance, one of four two-week special sessions during the regular academic year.
[cxiii] Katherine Litz, untitled review of dance program at Black Mountain College. Black Mountain College Papers, Vol. II, Box 39, “Summer Session 1952” File. North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
[cxiv] Noland, interview with the author, April 6, 1993.
[cxv] Duberman, 281.
[cxvi] ibid., 280.
[cxvii] ibid., 362.