John Cage


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Cage Edition 23- The Works for Violin 3



mode 88 John CAGE, Vol. 23: The Works for Violin 3 – Two4 (version for violin & piano and version for violin & sho) – Irvine Arditti, Stephen Drury, Mayumi Miyata

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Cage Edition 23- The Works for Violin 3

The Complete John Cage Edition, Volume 23

Irvine Arditti, violin

Two4  (1991)  30:16
for violin and sho
Mayumi Miyata, sho

Two4  (1991)  (30:18)
for violin and piano
Stephen Drury, piano

Cage’s Two4 is special among the Number Pieces because it uses the same score (with instructional differences) for both the piano and sho parts. This is the first time that both versions of Two4 appear on a single disc.

One of Cage’s preoccupations in his later years was with the question of a composition’s “identity”, and how that identity is maintained through radically different performances. In the two performances of the single piece recorded here, that question is raised in ways both subtle and obvious. The choice of piano or sho will fundamentally alter the sound of the music.

The sho is a wind instrument used in the gagaku ensemble, which provided the traditional court music of Japan with a mysterious, reedy sound – distantly comparable to an accordion, harmonica and harmonium. The sho sustains and breathes, the piano chimes and begins to fade immediately after being played. The piano sounds a chord with a single ictus, the sho attacks its chords gradually, notes fading in one at a time. When performed with sho rather than piano, the music gives the impression more of blending than diverging. The violinist is asked to differentiate six microtonal notes between each chromatic step, resulting in a scale of eighty-four tones to the octave! Cage’s explicit intention is not a precisely microtonal music; rather he uses this notation as a way of creating uncertainty in the pitch field. In addition, the violin can be asked to sustain its single pitches as long as necessary – for up to a minute and forty seconds. The piano or sho, having more limited sustaining ability (the piano sound dies away, the sho’s chords last no longer than the player’s breath), must move through its material much more rapidly, sometimes having as many as eleven chords to move through in no more time than the violin has to hold a single note. The two instruments thus play contrasting roles throughout, in the fields of both pitch and time – the violin generally exploring the infra-chromatic cracks between the piano or sho’s tempered scale; long, single tones against changing harmonies. The experience of time – the listener’s experiencing of time – is fundamental to the late pieces. The static, suspended, sustained tones of the violin and the unchanging volume of the piano or sho reinforces more strongly than ever Cage’s interchangeable use of sound and silence.

The score consists of a set of materials in six categories, three for each instrument, one of which is silence. Both the violin and sho are encouraged to make extremely long held notes, often with microtonal shifts. The pianist can choose to play from a set of ascending pitches, as well as “extended lullabies” which are modified from Satie’s Vexations. The result is music that is mysteriously magical.

Irvine Arditti, of the incomparable Arditti Quartet, continues his ongoing series of Cage’s Complete Works for Violin on Mode with this release. Mayumi Miyata is the sho’s leading New Music interpreter, and Cage wrote this version especially for her. Stephen Drury, a highly regarding New Music and Cage specialist, has appeared on many Mode discs (as pianist and conductor). The liner notes (some of which are excerpted above) are by Stephen Drury.


Irvine Arditti (violin), Mayumi Miyata (sho), Stephen Drury (piano)

John Cage’s Two4, written in 1991, is recorded here in its two version – one for violin and piano, one for violin and sho, the pipes of the ancient Japanese gagaku ensemble. It is an enchanting piece, drifting and fluid, with the violin sustaining a series of single drones while the accompanying instrument moves through a range of brightly hued chords. The players are allowed quite a degree of flexibility in determining the lengths of their notes and chords, so that the resulting counterpoint changes with each performance.

The version for violin and sho is first. The effect is breathy and intense, the rich, sustained tones of the sho blending exquisitely with the violin’s high, feathery drones, which move lower and become more strident as the piece progresses. Intriguingly, the version for violin and piano is utterly different in character, the attack and decay of the piano’s chords brings vibrant contrast with the violin’s sustained drifting, giving the whole a brittle, fragmented air.

In both versions, Irvine Arditti plays with characteristic fervour and brilliance, feeling for the very soul of Cage’s material to make every nuance speak volumes, and in  sho player, Mayumi Miyata and pianist Stephen Drury he has found exceptionally sensitive partners.
—Catherine Nelson, The Strad, March 2001

John Cage

The Works for Violin Vol.3
Irvine Arditti / Mayumi Miyata / Stephen Drury

Mode 88 CD

Two magnificent versions of Cage’s late duo work, Two4, one with the Japanese sho, the other the piano, and both (of course) featuring the exceptional talents of Irvine Arditti on violin. It must be said that, apart from mastering a range of microtonal inflections, this piece doesn’t stretch him technically in the way that a Ferneyhough or Xenakis piece would, but its difficulties are more subtle and no less challenging – Stephen Drury’s excellent notes are some the clearest I’ve come across in their lucid explanation of the nuances of Cage’s time-bracket notation. The violin’s sustained tones – sul ponticello and without vibrato – are crystalline and slightly jarring, and meld with the sho and the piano in radically different ways, and yet the “identity”  (Cage’s term) of the piece is clearly preserved in both versions. This is fantastically beautiful music performed with loving care and attention – quiet and restrained as ever, though quite distinct from the hushed carpet weaving of Feldman, to which it has often been somewhat unjustly compared. Another fine addition to Mode’s ongoing Cage collection.
— Dan Warburton,,
February 2001


John Cage on Mode:
John Cage Profile/Discography

Irvine Arditti on Mode:
John CAGE:  Freeman Etudes Books 1 & 2  (mode 32)
Freeman Etudes Books 3 & 4  (mode 37)
Complete String Quartets 1  (mode 17)
Complete String Quartets 2  (mode 27)
The Number Pieces 2  (mode 75)
The Works for Violin 5 (mode 118)
John Cage: Volume 23: The Works for Violin 4 (mode 100)
Chaya Czernowin:  String Quartet  (mode 77)
Peter Maxwell-Davies:  Le Jongleur de Notre Dame  (mode 59)
Gerard Pape:  Vortex  (mode 26)
Le Fleuve du Desir  (mode 67)
Hilda Paredes:  The Seventh Seed  (mode 60)

Stephen Drury on Mode:
The Orchestral Works 1:  101; Apartment House 1776; Ryoanji for 4
soloists and orchestra. (mode 41)
The Orchestral Works 2:  Etcetera; Etcetera 2/4 Orchestras  (mode 86)
The Piano Works 1: Music for Two; One; One5; Music Walk. (mode 47)
The Piano Concertos: Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber
Orchestra; Fourteen (with the Callithumpian Consort conducted by
Charles Peltz) + Concert for Piano & Orchestra (David
Tudor/Ensemble Modern, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher). (mode 57)
The Piano Works 3: The Seasons; Cheap Imitation; ASLSP. (mode 63)

Mayumi Miyata on Mode:
John Cage: The Orchestral Works 3 (mode 108)
Chaya Czernowin: Afatsim: Chamber Music (mode 77)

Mayumi Miyata Profile

Stephen Drury HomePage

Irvine Arditti Profile
The Arditti Quartet Profile
Arditti Quartet Web Site