This academic work intends to transcribe and approach one of the earliest pieces for prepared piano written by John Cage (1912-1992) in his early years as a composer. This research means the ending of my Master in Classical Percussion in The Royal Conservatory of The Hague with teachers: Pepe García, Niels Melifste, Theun van Nieuwburg and Hans Zonderop. Throughout it, I will analyze the piece as well as Cage´s experiences to understand and transcribe it.
In 2015, while completing my Bachelor studies in the Center of Music of the Basque Country - MUSIKENE (San Sebastian, Spain), I researched the three Constructions of John Cage, considered three of the most relevant pieces for percussion ensemble repertoire. Inquiring into that topic forced me to learn about the emergence of prepared piano. In this way, I realized that when Cage began to write for prepared piano, he also stopped composing for percussion. From 1942, most of his new works were for prepared piano and his repertoire for percussion ensemble ceased to evolve. This fact can be looked at as a severe setback for percussionist community if we consider the importance of Cage in the creation and development of the percussion ensemble.
However, the emergence of the prepared piano is highly related to percussion music. In fact, one of the main impulses to develop this instrument were the troubles with percussion instruments large size. This relationship led me to think that, perhaps, it would be possible to research Cage´s prepared piano repertoire and perform it in a new way using characteristic percussion instruments that are used in his music. Maybe, we could add one more work to the already magnificent repertoire that this composer bequeathed to percussionists.
My main goal will be to understand Bacchanale to the point of establishing a new performance with percussion instruments. To achieve this final goal, I need two partial objectives: the first step is to research into the figure of John Cage during the previous years to this work (I need to know about any situation or action that has influenced the compositional process); and, afterwards, to analyze and understand the piece. Given the final goal, to perform Bacchanale, the aspects in which I will focus my attention to will be only those that can be varied by the performer. The next partial objective will be to analyze the aspects that can be modified in each version of Bacchanale. They are grouped in two blocks: study of the score and circumstances of composition, and sounds used for its performance.
Before deciding the tempi, adjusting the dynamics or simply beginning to read the score, a percussionist must set the instruments he will use. This means choosing the sounds that will replace the prepared piano original ones. The term "reconstruction" of the subtitle is essential here: if we leave the instrumental template open to all percussion instruments, the possibilities would be endless. For this research, the process of reconstruction requires using instruments that Cage used in his compositions at that time. To choose sound sources, to know the original sounds and have enough tools to perform the piece with different instruments are tasks that the percussionist must complete. This research is meant to help with these tasks.
The work is divided into three large sections. First, a basic section of contextualization is presented, chapter 1. "Contextualization of Bacchanale", where the focus will be on the figure of Cage, especially on the eight years that elapsed from the beginning of his studies until the composition of Bacchanale. Bacchanale was written in 1940, at Cage's early stage as a composer. This fact allows to review his formation and compositional ideas until 1940. The following chapter, called "Bacchanale", contains the circumstances surrounding the composition of the work, the analysis and the piano preparations. In the next chapter, "Reconstruction process", I will explain the steps towards the final performance with percussion instruments. "Conclusions" summarizes the information obtained and replies to the following questions:
- Is an instrumentation for percussion ensemble possible, and if so, how would this sound?
- What are the most suitable instruments for this reconstruction?
- Is there any criteria to specify the different tempi of the piece? Do the tempi depend on each version of Bacchanale?
In that case, would the internal relation beetwen tempi be kept in all the versions?
- Are there options to simulate the una corda pedal effect with percussion instruments?
- What are the options to simulate the piano resonance, long notes and fermatas with percussion instruments?
To facilitate the reading fluency, the scores and recordings are presented in four Annexes. Some quotes of the work come from books in the Spanish language. They will be copied in English to facilitate its comprehension with the original quote added by footnotes. Quotes, references and bibliography of this research follow APA-5 system. The origin of quotes is indicated in parentheses at the end of themselves.
Using John Cage´s entry in New Grove Dictionary for Music and Musicians I obtained numerous bibliographical references from experts for the chapter "Contextualization of Bacchanale". Works by D. Nicholls or J. Cage stand out in this category. For the other chapters, I have attained information from renowned performers, such as L. Vaes or S. Schick, and musicologists, like C. Shultis, P. Emmerik.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the invaluable help and support of certain people without whom this research would never have been possible. To Maria and my colleagues from Percussion Department of The Royal Conservatory, for all those hours that you have endured while I reflected on the best way to present this work. I also want to thank my coach, Karst de Jong, and Master Circle Leaders, Susan Williams and Wim Vos, for their advices and recommendations.