Sonatas and Interludes; and Dream by John Cage



JOHN CAGE (1912-1992)
Greensye 4794

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followed by CD booklet material

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Mutes of various materials are placed between the strings of the piano keys used, thus effecting transformations of the piano sounds with respect to all of their characteristics.

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By David Cleary, in New Music Connoisseur, Vol.7, No. 4, 1999

Louis Goldstein gave a stunning, sensitive performance that brought out both the work’s local and long-range beauty; it was in fact one of the most memorable piano performances of any kind this critic can recall hearing.  One scarcely realized that 64 minutes of music had elapsed.

By Gordon Rumson, in ComposerUSA, Winter 1996-97

…I will say how profoundly I was impressed by the composer and the pianist…how deeply moved I was by the music and its performance…get this CD if you love great music beautifully performed.

The work is massive, with clearly defined form, and a grand arch of expression.  But, the best music is dormant on the page awaiting a performer to give it life.  Goldstein does exactly that.  He is a superb artist with great command of sound, a technique that perfectly serves his intentions that are motivated by profound understanding nurtured through long acquaintance.  His control of nuance is fantastic.  The touch… is deep and resonant.…  This for me is the litmus test for great artistry—so many pianists just hit the piano.  Artists like Richter, Sofronitsky, Gilels, Edwin Fischer, Egon Petri touch the piano—and it rings out.  This is what I hear in this gorgeous performance.

What is especially important is that Goldstein infuses each piece with the transcendental urge that is at the core of John Cage’s art.  This is a performance that lifts one out of the dull world created by our exhaustion, gives our senses vitality and reveals the world in all its radiant beauty.  I firmly believe that such is the purpose of the best art,…and the ideal of great performers.

By Mike Silverton in La Folia, Volume 3, Number 1, Nov. 2000

Permit me to quote Nicholas Slonimsky on Ignacy Paderewski (Baker’s Dictionary of Music, Schirmer Books, 1997): “As an artist, Paderewski was a faithful follower of the Romantic school, which allowed free, well-nigh improvisatory declensions from the written notes, tempos, and dynamics; judged by 20th-century standards of precise rendering of the text, Paderewski’s interpretations appear surprisingly free, but this very personal freedom of performance moved contemporary audiences to ecstasies of admiration.”

I suspect that my response to … Sonatas and Interludes falls remarkably close to those “ecstasies of admiration” of Paderewski’s public. It does seem to this listener that in Louis Goldstein, Cage has his Paderewski. Whatever their virtues, other recorded performances of Sonatas and Interludes are by comparison angular and motoric.

By John Lambert in SPECTATOR, 10/31/96:

No one who is even vaguely interested in contemporary American music or the keyboard or — for that matter — transcendentalism can afford to ignore this disc.

On November 7, in UNC’s Person Hall, Wake Forest University professor Louis Goldstein celebrated American Music Week with an exceptional presentation of John Cage’s complete Sonatas and Interludes.  A large crowd … responded … as one might have expected a devout congregation to react to a deeply moving spiritual message.

A personal favorite is Sonata XII, which to me suggests a flower opening at dawn to greet the sun, depicted by a somewhat remote gamelan orchestra, playing at low volume; as given in Chapel Hill, it proved truly uplifting. This could serve as a good introduction to these remarkable works, which are, as Goldstein said, full of “astonishing musical moments.”


By John W. Lambert, Spectator Magazine, December 20, 1996

2. Cage: Dream (1948). Sonatas and Interludes (1946-48). Louis Goldstein, piano. (Greensye 4794 [DDD]; 72:04)

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by Seth Brodsky, Old Gold and Black, 1996

Goldstein … invited the audience, pillows in hand, to lie upon the stage and underneath the great Steinway itself as he performed the complete “Sonatas and Interludes” for prepared piano by the late American composer, theorist, and visionary John Cage.  The entire happening (a more inclusive title than “recital”), which quietly enthralled the audience, beautifully cultivated those two poles of the childish mind so potent in my fantasy: the chaotic order of play and the orderly chaos of imagination.

Needless to say, Goldstein presented the work magnificently; a tireless champion of American music of our century, he has performed the entire cycle many times and has recently recorded it.

… Goldstein has an extraordinary sense of the power and variance of silence, of that second of active space which reverses expectation or changes boredom inexplicably into awe.  Along with this subsonic virtuosity was given a full sensuality which other players have seemed reticent to reveal with concern for preservation of the title “avant-garde.”

Cage shows us that our juvenile pinings are ultimately redemptive …through art, that most eternal of all human desires: a finite way of experiencing the infinite.

Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” eloquently spoke of this, all the more beautifully in the hands of Goldstein — even more so `neath the bowels of the very instrument, with eyes closed in ecstatic wonder.

One may now approximate this rapt experience with Goldstein’s superb new recording of the work.
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Mutes of various materials are placed between the strings of the piano keys used, thus effecting transformations of the piano sounds with respect to all of their characteristics.

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The bulk of John Cage’s reputation rests on the innovations he developed in the areas of chance and indeterminacy. Sonatas and Interludes demonstrates aspects of musical creativity which have been overshadowed by his work after 1950. It is the performer’s hope that a carefully rendered performance of Sonatas and Interludes will provide a compelling argument in favor of John Cage’s skill as a composer.

Sonatas and Interludes is the capstone, summarizing work of a period John Cage later identified as “intentionally expressive” composition. This designation seems strange if one assumes that all music is intentionally expressive, but the term makes perfect sense when taking into account the subsequent direction of Cage’s career, namely composition determined by chance operations.

From 1938 to 1948, Cage was intensely concerned with the communicative power of music. Consider, for example, the statement Cage wrote for his first catalogue concerning the content of this composition: “The Sonatas and Interludes are an attempt to express in music the ‘permanent emotions’ of [East] Indian tradition: the heroic, the erotic, the wondrous, the mirthful, sorrow, fear, anger, the odious and their common tendency toward tranquillity.” He also referred to his essay “Forerunners of Modern Music,” which begins, “Music is edifying, for from time to time it sets the soul in operation. The soul is the gatherer-together of the disparate elements (Meister Eckhart), and its work fills one with peace and love.” Hardly typical words for a revolutionary of the avant garde.

The individual pieces of Sonatas and Interludes create a palindromic shape consisting of four sonatas, an interlude, four more sonatas, the second interlude; then the third interlude, sonatas nine through twelve, the fourth interlude and the final four sonatas. While the large-scale construction of the sonatas is that of Baroque period sonatas and dance suite movements, Cage ingeniously varies the sonatas’ internal structures, avoiding the impression of a continuously repeating form. In addition, the first two interludes have no structural repeats while in the second half of Sonatas and Interludes, the sonatas are treated with slightly more freedom, and the interludes have more structural repeats than do the sonatas.

Many listeners are conscious of the repetitions during the first several parts of Sonatas and Interludes. As the set advances, listeners are apt to become less aware of the individual pieces starting and stopping, and gradually more aware of a long-lined continuity binding the pieces together.

The experience of listening to Sonatas and Interludes can be likened to the exploration of an utterly strange and beautiful landscape or piece of architecture. Across every threshold, beyond every interlocking branched archway, lies a room or a bower of unexpected size, shape and wonder. Where will the next doorway be? Or, with a different focus, Sonatas and Interludes can be experienced as a series of meditations, or prayers, leading finally to a state of ecstatic stillness.


This compact disc recording by Louis Goldstein, to me, is a souvenir of mystical transcendence and carnal ecstasy. For I associate these intense and seemingly contradictory experiences with the many opportunities I have had in the past eleven years to hear Louis perform Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage. Usually – but not always – the setting was the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the refurbished country villa of Richard Joshua Reynolds. Louis would typically play this masterwork for our American Foundations summer class and other interested member of the general public. One must imagine floor fans and locusts buzzing for some of the first performances I heard; then, the gentle woosh of central climate control.

These nuances matter, as any follower of John Cage will attest. Just as John discovered there was no silence in the anechoic “soundproof” chamber he once visited – only the whine of the central

nervous system and the rumble of the bloodstream – so too each performance of “sounds in time” (Louis Goldstein’s useful definition of music) must perforce come out differently.

I have become a connoisseur of these Cage performances: wishing I could have recordings of them all; knowing that they would never sound the same when replayed, even as the one you hold in your hand never will (even though the data on the disc will only change slightly with wear). Wanting them all is not very faithful to the playful spirit of Cage, who would value their ephemeral beauty most. Louis’ listeners want to hold on, though, because hearing Sonatas and Interludes smacks of grand cosmic doing – like having good sex or dropping LSD or standing in the Oval Office or meeting the Pope, the kinds of things a dying replicant would tell Dekker inthe final reel of Bladerunner. Or what Captain Ahab meant when he talked about striking through the mask. Ah yes, et ego in Arcadia: I heard Louis perform the Cage.

What made these performances of Louis Goldstein so sublime, including the one he has recorded now, is first of all their intimacy. Louis always tells his audience to climb right up under the piano, to hear the resonances and reverberations of the preparations as directly as possible. This recording captures the feel of that proximity to the player.

The second major virtue of this particular reading of Sonatas and Interludes is Louis’ incredibly expressive lyricism and amazing dynamic control. If you fall in love with this composition as much as you might, you will want to seek out other performances of it. Louis’ great complement here is the performance by Yuji Takahashi. Whereas Takahashi emphasized a restrained reading of the lyricism of the work and a kind of overall reasoned understatement (dare I say an Eastern, Zen reading of Cage?), Louis Goldstein reminds us that Cage is also a culmination of a Western tradition of increasingly flamboyant romantic music. Sonatas and Interludes is caught between two worlds, and yields different emphasis from either approach.


Sound Clip (3.3MB,.wav)

from Sonata II

Click here to read Six views of the Sonatas and Interludes by James Pritchett, author of The Music of John Cage.

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