Another of John Cage's final scores, written in the year of his death, Fifty-Eight is an enormous study in the poetics of tone for a wind orchestra. Fifty-Eight was composed to be played outdoors at an architectural wonder in Graz, Austria: the Landhausof, a Renaissance building that has 58 archways for its arcades. Cage was commissioned by the Pannonisches Blasorchester to celebrate this gorgeous building. Although Cage had never been to Graz, he was given architectural drawings of the site and began to compose immediately. He wanted to conduct rehearsals himself, but died before he could realize that dream. This recording places each member of the wind orchestra under one of the archways. Each was given a stopwatch and his or her own two-page part of the score, which directed the musicians to play between 64 and 71 notes (the variances depended on the instruments). The musicians could play these notes in any manner or duration they wished, provided it was inside the minimum and maximum duration allotted in advance. Cage used the I Ching to determine what this would be. No dynamic notation was offered, since everyone had the same starting point and the silences were written in. Whatever happened after that was the result. The overtone colors created by this orchestra are spectacular, given the wide range of possibilities offered. The silences are slipped into as each person follows specific durational constructs. Silences overlap as do the tones, some of which clash but most of which are dissonant in a drone-like sense and therefore vibrate at another pitch altogether. The tonal clusters are dense, but not heavy, and the certain tension felt on the part of the performers gives way about ten minutes into the piece. It ends without an ending and just ceases, as the last notes drift in from the archways, creating a hovering presence that slips from aural detection by the end of the record. It's too bad that Cage had not lived a few more years. His large orchestral pieces from the last 15 years of his life are among his most enduring works.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek