John Cage


mode 327

The Works for Piano 11


mode 327  John CAGE: Cage Edition Vol. 54; The Works for Piano 11: Cheap Imitation; Swinging; Perpetual Tango; All sides of the small stone for Erik Satie and (secretly given to Jim Tenney) as a koan + FIRST RECORDING of Morton FELDMAN‘s trio arrangement of Cheap Imitation for piano, flutes & glockenspiel. — Aki Takahashi, piano

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The Works for Piano 11

1.    Swinging  (1989)  0:57

       Cheap Imitation (1969)  32:40
2.    I.  7:19
3.    II.  7:48
4.    III.  17:33

5.    Perpetual Tango  (1984)  2:51

        JOHN CAGE, arranged for trio by MORTON FELDMAN (1980)
        Cheap Imitation (1969)  33:49
6.    I.  7:58
7.    II.  8:18
8.    III.  18:51
        Margaret Lancaster, flutes, piccolo
        David Shively, glockenspiel
        Dedicated to Aki Takahashi

9.    All sides of the small stone for Erik Satie and (secretly given to Jim Tenney) as a koan 
       attributed to John Cage (1978)  4:24

CAGE – SATIE – FELDMAN – TAKAHASHI sums up the focus of this album. All of these works by Cage are influenced by Satie. Cage’s friend and colleague Morton Feldman made an arrangement of Cage’s solo piano “Cheap Imitation” for a trio of piano, flutes/piccolo and glockenspiel. Feldman’s admiration for the pianist Aki Takahashi caused him to gift this arrangement to her. And, full circle, we have the repertoire of this album.

The major discovery is Feldman’s arrangement of Cheap Imitation for this very Feldmanesque instrumental ensemble. It is unknown why Feldman made this arrangement in 1980. Knowing of Takahashi’s reputation as a pianist specializing in new music, Feldman had invited her to be an artist in residence at the university where he taught. When she was leaving, Feldman gave a musical score to Takahashi as a gift. It was a copy of John Cage’s solo piano piece Cheap Imitation with annotations by Feldman. He told her that this was an instrumental version of this piece: flute, piano, and glockenspiel. He signed the title page, just under the original title:
Morton Feldman
Buffalo, N.Y. Winter 1980
Dedicated to Aki Takahashi

Cage was to create a two-piano transcription of Erik Satie’s Socrate for a Merce Cunningham choreography, but he was unable to get permission from the publisher. Even worse, he could not even get performance rights to use the published piano-vocal score of Socrate. Cage’s creative solution was to make a piano piece that maintained the exact metrical and phrase structure of Socrate, but with different notes to avoid copyright issues. He called this piece Cheap Imitation. Cunningham responded by calling his dance Second Hand.

The recital is completed by three short works under Satie’s influence. Perpetual Tango is derived from the “Tango” movement of Satie’s Sports et divertissements. Cage’s method was to take the rhythm of the original tango and erase parts of it. He does not specify pitches, but instead gives the pitch ranges of the original piece. The pianist chooses which pitches to play in the rhythm given. In 1989 he applied the same procedure on another piece from Sports et divertissements, “The swing;” he titled the result Swinging.

All sides of the small stone… is a composition with a completely unknown history, derived from Satie’s Gymnopédies. All we have is a page of musical manuscript written in the back of a score of a work by American composer James Tenney with the signature “John” and the date “7/78.” The manuscript was discovered when Tenney’s papers were being organized after his death. It has been attributed to Cage, but the handwriting doesn’t look like his. Neither Cage nor Tenney — nor anyone else, for that matter — said a word about this piece, so its definitive composer will remain a mystery. Aki Takahashi gives the first recording of this unpublished work.

Liner notes by James Pritchett.


This is volume 54 of the Mode label’s Complete John Cage Edition and it has some fascinating rarities on offer. The main features are two versions of Cheap Imitation, the extensive background to which is outlined in some detail in the booklet notes for this release. As are many of Cage’s works, the piece came about as a result of his collaboration with Merce Gunningham’s dance company. The project in question originally used Erik Satie’s Socrate in an arrangement for two pianos, but Satie’s publisher refused permission to use the music in this way, and so Cage was obliged to imitate Socrate to match Cuningham’s already prepared choreography in a new piece for solo piano.

Divided into three parts, most of Cheap Imitation is monodic. Cage’s piece reduces Socrate to its essence, drawing on melodic fragments and transposing and shifting material to suit his needs. The atmosphere of Satie’s enigmatic voice is retained and indeed heightened, and as James Pritchett puts it, this is “both a reworking of Satie’s Socrate and a profound tribute to it… We can think of Cheap Imitation as a quiet, constantly unfolding conversation between two composers… This in turn brings us back to Morton Feldman and the many, many conversations he and Cage had during their long friendship…” Their connection was initially a love of the music of Anton Webern, and this influence can be heard in Feldman’s arrangement of Cheap Imitation, with the flute and glockenspiel taking on single notes and ‘handing off’ the melody with the piano still sometimes as a central character, and sometimes as a more equal partner. The arrangement was made as a gift to Aki Takahashi and, though she never dared ask why Feldman had made this transcription, the instrumentation is the same as his Why Patterns? from 1978. Feldman’s inspiration as the result of Takahashi’s playing is well documented, and “this is [after all] a piece that is tied up with memory and relationship in so many ways.”

The remaining pieces are all miniatures of one kind or another. Swinging and Perpetual Tango are connected to Erik Satie’s Sports et divertissements, Cage taking the originals and “shredding and blurring” them by removing notes and filling the empty spaces with either silence or sustaining the previous note to fill the gap. Pitches are not specified, and so the pianist is left to select their own notes to be played in the rhythms given. Conceptual genius or a composer getting away with artistic murder? You decide. All sides of the small stone for Erik Satie (secretly given to Jim Tenney) as a koan is, we are told, “a composition with a completely unknown history.” It was found in the back of a score from James Tenney’s papers after his death, and the attribution to Cage is shaky to say the least. The piece is like an add-on to Satie’s Gymnopédies, with a rather nice modal repeating circle of chords and a simple melody that comes and goes over the top. Neither the style nor the handwriting appears to be Cage’s but Takahashi plays it with suitably restrained reverence, making a fine little anonymous encore to a strange but intriguing programme of Cage’s less well-known music.

— Dominy Clements, musicwebinternational, July 2021


John Cage

Morton Feldman

Margaret Lancaster

David Shively

Aki Takahashi