John Cage: aboutCAGE Vol. 5: Complete Organ Works


  • Artist(s): Piergiovanni Domenighini
  • Composer(s): John Cage
  • EAN Code: 0746160911298
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Organ
  • Period: Contemporary
  • Publication year: 2020
  • Sound Engineer: Maurizio Paciariello
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The American composer John Cage did not eschew provocation, quite the contrary. He actively sought it, in a continuing effort to push the boundaries of what could count as “music”, and of what we are prepared to consider in a “musical” fashion. However, at least on one occasion we might say that what goes around comes around, and that his provocation was taken perhaps more seriously than he might have expected. It is the case of his Organ2 ASLSP. The piece has an interesting genesis, and, one could say, an even more interesting “ending”. In 1985, Cage was commissioned by the piano competition Creative and Performing Arts, organized by a Summer Institute in Maryland, to write a piece to be used as required contemporary work by the contestants. Considering the dullness which may assail the jury members after long stretches of time spent in listening to virtuoso pianism, Cage created a piece which met, in his opinion, two requirements. On the one hand, it had to be slow and thus contrast with the hectic pace of many virtuoso pieces; on the other, even though it had to be performed by every participant in the competition, it had to sound “differently” every time, so as not to become boring after repeated hearings. Thus, Cage composed ASLSP, an acronym which stands for “As SLow aS Possible”, but which at the same time evokes the literary output of James Joyce. In Cage’s own words, “The title is an abbreviation of ‘as slow as possible.’ It also refers to ‘Soft morning, city! Lsp!’ the first exclamations in the last paragraph of Finnegan’s Wake”. The piano piece consists of eight sections; however, following the composer’s instructions, one of them has to be omitted in performance, and should be replaced by one of the others, which therefore will be heard twice. The fundamental requirement, however, is that the piece is to be played extremely slowly, while respecting the proportions between the respective lengths of every sound or chord, as represented on the score. The typical duration of ASLSP when played at the piano is between 6 and 60 minutes: in fact, sounds decay relatively quickly on the piano, and once the strings have been put into vibration through percussion by the hammers, the sound actually starts to disappear. However, two years later, Cage was discussing about ASLSP with organist Gerd Zacher; they noted that the problem of sound decay does not apply to the organ, an instrument which can sustain a sound for a virtually infinite time – i.e., as long as the instrument itself is in working conditions. Thus, the organ version (Organ2 ASLSP) was created. It differs from the piano version in that, “distinct from ASLSP, all eight pieces are to be played. However, any one of them may be repeated, though not necessarily, and as in ASLSP the repetition may be placed anywhere in the series”, as instructed by the composer. It is not a simple arrangement of the piano piece, but rather a new composition which shares many qualifying characters with the piano version. While, in the piano version, the pianist’s hands were considered independently from each other, similar to two distinct musicians, in the organ version the same applies also to the feet; thus, the piece is scored for an “ensemble” of musicians, which happen to be embodied by a single performer. However, in the organ version, there are actually several performers, since the registration may be very complex and require the cooperation of one (or more) registrants. Up to this point, we are discussing an avant-garde piece, which certainly represents a provocation with respect to many assumed features of traditional classical music, but which is less shocking than other contemporary works. However, ten years after the creation of Organ2 ASLSP, a conference gathered a group of philosophers of music, who discussed about the implication of Cage’s indication, “As slow as possible”. It was agreed that the prescription could generate a performance much longer than those probably imagined by the composer; thus, the idea was launched to organize a performance of Organ2 ASLSP lasting for… 639 years. Since it could not be assumed that any single organist could live for more than six centuries (and agree to play for his entire lifetime, however long), a special organ was built and installed in the Burchardi Church, in Germany, whose the pedals are depressed by sandbags. Every note or chord in the score was assigned a proportional duration, which, as can be imagined, frequently encompasses several years, and ironic facets were not lacking. For one, since the piece begins with a silence, when the performance began (on September 5th, 2001), the organist simply started the mechanism and then left, and no sound was heard until February 5th, 2003. The second ironic aspect is that the organ was encapsulated into a cube of acrylic glass: since presently it is sounding all the time, in this way the church can still host other events which otherwise would be “disturbed” by the organ’s sound. For those intending to be there, the performance will end on September 5th, 2640. Along with this rather exceptional performance (which might have disconcerted Cage himself), human-made renditions could also reach impressive lengths, as happened with the performances by Diane Luchese (in 2009), lasting nearly 15 hours, and several “shorter” versions, lasting around 12 hours each. By comparison with such an exceptional piece, the other two works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album seem rather tame. Souvenir (1983) has in turn a curious story. Cage had been commissioned to write an organ piece by the American Guild of Organists; the patrons had dutifully paid him half of the agreed fee in advance. Afterwards, however, the Guild told Cage that they wished him to compose a piece “similar” to a work he had written many years earlier, Dream for piano (1948). Cage was deeply disappointed and annoyed by the request, since his extreme quest for originality could not bear the idea of repeating something he had previously done, and therefore he decided to give the retainer back to the patrons. His move caused, in turn, the desperate reaction of the Guild members, who immediately reassured him that he was under no compulsion to write anything specifically akin to Dream, and that he could essentially write whatever he wished. Thus, Cage proceeded, but, it seems, he was never entirely satisfied with the result, which he defined as “A rather poor piece” (in dialogue with pianist Peter Dickinson). Nevertheless, it is a very interesting work, of which a piano version was later realized by Yvar Mikhashoff, thus making a bidirectional itinerary from the piano to the organ and vice-versa. Souvenir is appealing to the listener, since it includes a mixture of foreseeability (in the threefold repetition) and variability (in the unexpected dissonant clusters); here, the older Cage seems to regard his younger self as almost another composer, to whom he pays homage but without exceeding in reverence. A similar attitude is found in Some of “The Harmony of Maine”, in which Cage’s model is – rather unexpectedly – a hymnbook of the eighteenth century, with church songs by Supply Belcher, collected under the title of The Harmony of Maine. Cage selected some of the songs, whose original title include final abbreviations such as CM, LM, SM and PM. These cryptic indication stand, respectively, for Common metre, Long metre, Short metre and Peculiar metre, and refer to the number of syllables of each line and verse of the original anthems. Cage probably included these indications not only in order to increase the enigmatic aspect of his work, but also because the lyrics’ length determined the construction of the original tunes, and his own pieces reveal this underlying structure, even though it is deeply reworked.
In fact, as Cage wrote to Gerd Zacher, “the method I have used to free the original music of the theory of harmony, at the same time that its flavour is kept, is as follows: to count the number of notes in each line (sop., alt., ten. And bass) and to ask which numbers are passive and which active, getting with the I Ching the answers, passive being 1-32, active 33-64. An active number is first a sound which is held through to the next active number, which is then a silence that lasts until the next active numbers. […] The result, I believe, is a music in which each tone, since it is preceded and followed by silence, vibrates from its own centre”. In other words, Cage let random choices determine the actual shape of his work, taking as his starting material the original church hymns. Thus, it may be said that the true protagonist of this album is time: the almost infinite time of Organ2 ASLSP, the centuries needed to complete the Burchardi Church performance, the centuries elapsing between The Harmony of Maine and its Cagean version, and the years between Cage’s younger self and his later reflection on Dream. Assuredly, this will make the time of listening an opportunity for a mindful appropriation of our feeling of time.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio


Piergiovanni Domenighini: Organist, Architect and Engineer, he was born on March 21, 1992 in Breno (BS), in Camonica Valley, Italy. When he was just 4 years old, he started to play the piano and in 2006 he got into the Organ class at the conservatory. He graduated with A. Falcioni.
In 2010 he established the young ensemble “Viandante Orchestra” (Wandering Orchestra), directed by him in performing pieces taken from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn to modern authors. He follows different courses of the instrumental execution's practice taught by E. Viccardi, E. Vianelli, A. Corti, K. Schnorr, G. Gnann, D. Zaretsky. He performed as soloist in Organ Festivals in different parts of Italy and abroad, such as the Festival Internazionale Laurentiano d’Organo, many editions of the Sardinia Organ Fest, the Festival Federico Cesi, the Festival del Mediterraneo, the Preggio Music Festival, playing in the most suggestive places, like the Basilica Superiore of San Francesco in Assisi and the Pantheon in Rome. He was selected to be soloist in musical projects like the execution of the whole sonata for organ by F. Mendelssohn at the Santa Maria Cathedral in Alghero, the execution of the entire Choralfantasien by Max Reger, the organ marathon broadcasted in steaming from the Tempio of Santa Maria della Consolazione in Todi.
He collaborated as organist with the “Accademia Perusina orchestra” and with different orchestral, chamber music and choral formations (“Centro Italia Orchestra”, “Coro della Basilica Papale di San Francesco da Assisi” ecc.). He regularly performs as soloist and as spokesman for the ONAOSI fondation in projects of sensitization and introduction to the organ repertoire and to the symphonic music.
Lately he expanded his own disclosure's activity with the creation of the musical-organ show “Il Suono dell’Immagine” (The Sound of the Image, 2018) performed by him in different theaters. His adaptation works of orchestral pieces on the organ were played in many Music Festivals such us Festival Internazionale Laurentiano, Sagra Musicale Umbra (Italy), Juillet Estivales de l’Orgue de la Cathédral de Dijon (France), Internationaler Orgelsommer im Berliner Dom, Hamburger Orgelsommer Sonnabend, Paulusmusik Orgelsommer at Darmstadt (Germany). Since September 2018 he has been Guest Conductor of “Coro Lirico dell’Umbria”. He is sub-organist at the San Lorenzo Cathedral in Perugia.


John Cage (b Los Angeles, 5 Sept 1912; d New York, 12 Aug 1992). American composer. One of the leading figures of the postwar avant garde. The influence of his compositions, writings and personality has been felt by a wide range of composers around the world. He has had a greater impact on music in the 20th century than any other American composer.

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