Thursday, March 15, 2007
The theatre is packed. It is a bowtie and tails affair, with a mad sprinkling of cocktail dresses thrown in. A piano is rolled onto the stage. The audience wonders if it is a "prepared piano" A few loose scews and bolts drop onto the floor as the piano is pushed across the stage. The lid of the piano is not closed and poking out from under the lid is the front wheel of a ladies bicycle, and hanging ominously from the handle bars are two carrier bags full of shopping. Is this a mistake? The ladies fidget with their opera glasses and focus down their noses, as the piano comes to rest centre stage. What is going on?
A smartly dressed young man enters stage left wearing white tie and tails. His hair is black and slicked back with brylcreme. He sits down on the piano stool folds his fingers together and cracks his knuckles. He places his sheet music on the piano and starts the first movement of John Cages latest musical offering for piano entitled 4' 33" The audience waits in anticipation. Silence. The musician sits down at his piano, closes the keyboard, and sets a stopwatch for 30 seconds. He remains sitting and does not do anything. Birds were singing outside. A bee flew in through an open window. The audience shuffled their feet, coughed. Had the performace begun?
When that time was up he rose from his stool and made a respectful bow towards the audience. They were flumoxed... should they clap, but then they remembered it is bad form to applaud between movments. He sat down again and turned over a page on the sheet music and he set the clock again for 2 minutes and twenty-three seconds. Under the full scrutiny on an uncomprehending audience the beads of sweat began to form on his brow. A hank of hair from his forelock worked it's way loose from the brylcreme gel and hung down over his forhead. Ladies tut tutted and and gentlemen began to cough nervously. The air conditioning cut out and the imperceptable hum that had been vibrating through the air ceased.
At the end of 2:23 the pianist rose from his stool. It scrapped along the floor as he did so. He removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped the prespiration from his brow and dabbed the moisture from his upper lip. He turned the page once again... the pages were blank and did not have any notes on them. He set the clock for one minute and 40 seconds, and resumed his seat at the piano.
One woman turned to her husband and said that it was outrageous. She had spent all that money on a new dress, not to mention the jewelry. Her husband who would have prefered to be in the bar drinking brandy anyway, knocked on the floor two times with his cane, and that was all that was need to start the riot. First it was the feet that started to rumble like a train, and canes, walking sticks, and umbrellas with the occasion parasole began to supply a sharp staccatto backbeat. A man with a fine waxed moustache that would have made Elgar envious cried balderdash, and bushsy black beard shouted poppycock. The ladies were affronted by the word not knowing if a poppy had a cock or not. Then all mayhem ensued, there was donkeys braying, spittle flying from outraged purple lips. Some ladies had to have their corsets loosed for fear of apoplexy and neurological impairment
After one minute 40 seconds the pianist he left the stage. The first performance of "4:33" was over, and John Cage could not have been happier if he had been Eric Satie spouting abusive Dada poetry whilst jugging a litter of new born kittens.
For your listening pleasure here is a full orchestral presentation of John Cage 4:33