Double Music

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Cage/Harrison

See Also: John Cage
See Also: Lou Harrison


General Info

Year: 1941
Duration: c. 6:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: PetersCF
Cost: Parts Only - $17.95   |   Score Only - $18.50


Instrumentation

Player I: Graduated water buffalo bells(6), graduated muted auto brake drums(6)
Player II: Sistra(2), graduated sleigh bells(6), auto brake drums(6)*, thundersheet
Player III: Japanese temple gongs(3), tam tam, cow bells(6)
Player IV: Chinese gongs(6), tam tam, water gong, auto brake drums(6)**

* Player II only uses 5 Brake Drums in the score
** Player IV's Brake Drums are not included in the nomenclature, but exists in the score at measure 172


Errata

Program Notes

(parts 1 and 3 were written by John Cage, parts 2 and 4 by Lou Harrison)

Though rare in classical music, collaborative works are not at all unknown. For various reasons, composers sometimes agree to contribute separate sections to the same composition. But this is a rare case where two composers agreed to write different parts of the same musical texture, intended to be played at one time, and, moreover, did it without knowing what they other was doing and, hence what the final result would sound like (other than, as we shall see, in general terms).

Close to the same age, John Cage and Lou Harrison were brought up in the vibrant multi-cultural environment of urban California. Both moved around a lot as teenagers. They met in San Francisco where both were working as musicians with dance companies. (Harrison was also a dancer.) Cage, who admittedly had trouble with harmonic concepts, had settled on using percussion sounds for his dance music, including the celebrated invention of the "prepared piano," where a piano is altered into a kind of sound-box of percussive non-pitched sounds by means of attaching strange objects to the strings.

Harrison had also de-emphasized harmony in his compositions, preferring solo melodic lines and percussion. Together they haunted "oriental" stores where they could cheaply buy good gongs and the like, and found other nifty noise-makers in places like auto graveyards, where they discovered, for instance, the really fine sound that brake drums make when struck.

Beginning around 1940 they gave a number of highly publicized percussion music concerts in San Francisco. For a 1941 concert they decided to write a percussion quartet wherein each would write the music for only two of the players. They planned certain ground rules, which Harrison much later remembered for his biographer Leta Miller:

"We agreed to use a specified number of rhythmicles [a term Harrison had invented to describe a kind of rhythmic shape-motive] and/or rests of the same quantity, which could be put together in any combination. Then we shaped the full length of the piece in half notes. We each did our own form. We wrote separately and then put it together and never changed a note. We didn't need to."

Double Music became an early indication of John Cage's development of what he called "indeterminacy," which as applied to music refers to the idea of devising musical structures with enough looseness of compositional control that the composer does not fully know what the ultimate musical result will be, at least in detail.

The instruments in Double Music are primarily metallic, and they make a web of both delicately and forcefully clanging sounds, a kind of non-pitched gamelan texture. Part of the fun of listening to it is observing how the four separate parts mesh.

Since its premiere, Double Music has gained the status as one of the most influential pieces in American music history, both for launching indeterminacy and as one of the very first leading repertory pieces for percussion ensemble. - Joseph Stevenson[1]

Awards

Commercial Discography

Recent Performances

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Works for Percussion by this Composer

Double Music - Percussion Quartet - Cage/Harrison

Additional Resources

Dissertation: The Early Percussion Music Of John Cage 1935 - 1943[2]

References