Vol.3: The Complete String Quartets Vol. 1
1. Music for Four (1987, revised 1988) 30:03
2. Thirty Pieces for String Quartet (1983) 30:23
The Arditti Quartet
This first volume of Cage's String Quartets marked Mode's beginning of an association with the exceptional Arditti Quartet--and the largest selling record in Mode's catalog! Cage worked extensively with the quartet in preparing the pieces for the concert and recording which was recorded live at Wesleyan University's JOHN CAGE AT WESLEYAN festival in 1988. Cage was so pleased and impressed with the Arditti's interpretations, that it was decided to release the concert performances, documenting the event and their dynamic playing. Volume 2 of the Quartets can be found on mode 27. Liner notes by John Cage and Irvine Arditti are included. The cover art is an original etching by Cage.
"The two works on this disc document part of a concert of John Cage's string quartet music the Arditti Quartet played at Wesleyan University last year. In both pieces, the players sat far apart from each other, whether displaced on stage for "Music for Four" (the work's premiere) or scattered in odd locations around the hall for "30 Pieces for String Quartet" (1983), prompting one audience member to ask whether the players liked each other. Liking doesn't matter, though, with Mr. Cage's chance-derived music; only independence does. And the surprising result of music made from separated, unrelated contrapuntal voices is serenity. Mr. Cage's expertly made musical chaos happens to be just as good at producing beautiful patterns as the various forms of natural chaos are, especially when aided by an ensemble as good as this one."
"The mode of playing is predominantly anti-romantic, as befits the relatively fragmented material, but there is tenderness as well as ferocity in both works, and despite the half-hour length of each composition the succession of short segments is well balanced to keep fatigue and monotony at bay. As the booklet explains, the recording cannot reproduce the wide spatial separation of the players, but close-miking has the virtue of strengthening the sense of their equality: it also provides close-up evidence of virtuosity of rare distinction."
"The spatial separation of players reflects Cage's interest in creating "a multiplicity which is characteristic in nature" and enables the listeners to choose their own points of focus within the complex web of sound. Cage has commented that the music's flexibility of structure makes it "earthquake-proof." However, this analogy also captures the salient qualities projected by this music: those of calm, tranquillity and immense speciousness."
"...these two compositions for string quartet have many moments of magical convergence of musical line which even my traditionally oriented ears can both admire and enjoy. The most laudatory thing that I can say about these compositions is that they seem far shorter than their respective timings of 30:03 and 30:23. In each case, Cage provides a profoundly musical experience. The Arditti Quartet takes the problematical intonation and timing complexities of these works in stride. These are both expert and committed performances which make a persuasive case for this music. The recording, despite its live performance origins, is excellent, as are the accompanying notes."
"...there were some late gems. Two were for string quartet: Music for Four (1987) and Four (1989), both of them restrained, elegiac studies in sustained tones reminiscent of, and perhaps a tribute to, Cage's old friend Morton Feldman. When performed as plainly and devoutedly as the Arditti Quartet performs them they are sublime lullabies, gloriously realizing not only the quietism of Zen as Cage professed it, but the qualities of 'naive poetry' as described by Schiller: 'tranquillity, purity and joy."
"The Arditti Quartet's playing, supervised in all of these works by the very benign Mr. Cage, is remarkably fine, whether in the extraordinary virtusoso demands of the Thirty Pieces for String Quartet (1983)--a work written for the Kronos--or the apparent extreme simplicity of FOUR (1989), a music of unique, still, lovliness.
It is significant that they (the Arditti Quartet), and not an American ensemble, should have produced the first comprehensive Cage quartet document, as Cage, ever the prophet, was welcomed, honored and performed in Europe far more than his home country."
© Mode Records