John Cage’s Number Pieces
John Cage’s final series of works, the Number Pieces, were written in the last years of his life. Most of these pieces were composed with his time bracket technique where short fragments, often just one note, a dynamic marking and a time bracket or range for when they player could start and stop playing the note or fragment.
The name of the composition reflects the number of players so pieces like One and Three have fairly sparse textures with frequent gaps and silence. Pieces like Twenty-Six and Twenty-Eight have much more complex textures and can vary considerably from performance to performance.
This disc from OgreOgress provides a great opportunity to compare these different pieces. Three (1989) for three recorders is spare with much silence. If is quiet and meditative and is reminiscent of some of his early Chance works for piano like Winter Music or Music for Changes.
The larger works, Twenty-Eight, Fifty-Four and Fifty-Seven, while having a seemingly “slow tempo” (a bit of a misnomer for describing the Number Pieces) and soft dynamics have a unexpected amount of tension and drama that arises from the occasional dissonance and overtones. The truly benefit from close and repeated listening and achieve an intensity that is surprising.
It is a good selection of these late and rarely heard works by John Cage performed with skill and subtlety. If you find you like them you should also consider their early release which includes excellent recordings of the later Three (for percussion), Six, Twenty-Three and Twenty-Six.