Commissioned and first performed by Kensington Symphony Orchestra
The forces given above are those that took part in the first performance. The scoring is open: any wind and brass may be used. The strings are notated as the usual 1st & 2nd violins, violas, cellos (with two solo parts as well as tutti) and basses. The specific requirements for cellos aside, any number of players may be used.
Programme note from the first performance:
I can't remember precisely when I encountered John Cage's music and ideas, but it must have been at an early age, because he seems to have been a constant presence throughout my musical life. He's most famous (or notorious) for 4'33”, which he wrote after the experience of entering an anechoic chamber, a space where supposedly no sound can enter. Hearing sounds anyway – those made by his own body- he realised that there was no such thing as “silence”; that “until I die, there will be sounds; and the sounds will continue after I die. One need not fear for the future of music.” (In fact he had had the idea of a “silent” piece much earlier, conceived as protest against Muzak. But Cage understood the value of a tale that grows in the telling, and was happy to contribute to this tale's growth himself.) 4’33” is a landmark in 20th century music of course, posing as it does some profound questions about the fundamental nature of music. It is also however perhaps unfortunately over-famous; its notoriety has overshadowed Cage the composer. His teacher Schoenberg famously described him as “not a composer, but an inventor – of genius,” and the wilful misunderstanding of this comment has provided plenty of fuel to those who would dismiss him (and if you're one of those, I'm sorry but you're just plain wrong, and missing out).
So while I’ve taken the title of this small tribute to Cage in his centenary year from his comments on that famous work, I’ve also drawn inspiration from the series of “number” pieces he composed at the end of his life. In these Cage prescribes certain tones or sounds to be played, but allows a degree of freedom as to when precisely these sounds might happen. Likewise, in this piece the players are given a sequence of chords that build up and then thin out again. Each player decides which of the notes available to play and when to play it within the time given for that particular set of tones. There's very little incident; I've restricted things to a low volume and a limited number of notes to encourage close listening, so that small details can assume a bigger significance. I try to remember the dictum of Cage's pupil Morton Feldman: “Don't push the sounds around.” The players are encouraged not to make things happen, but simply to let them happen. Above all, I try to remember Cage's greatest lesson: that for music to happen, all we need do is listen.