Paul Zukofsky

John Cage: Freeman Etudes Nos. 1-8

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One of several volumes of this composer's music in the CP2 catalog, this challenging and literally stellar album presents the first set of eight etudes in a series that had been left unfinished at the time of John Cage's death about ten years later. The "Freeman Etudes" are available in several different recordings, all of them worth checking out, but this album is the one actually featuring Paul Zukofsky, the violinist who commissioned the pieces in the first place, performing the first half of some 16 etudes that were completed. While many listeners may feel that the works of Cage are a slap in the face to any standardized notions of composition, such an assumption would simply be based on ignorance. Another cliché, and one in this case actually based on truth, is that there has never been a composer as famous as Cage whose music has actually been listened to by so few, a situation that goes far in explaining false assumptions about his working methods. In this case the composer does everything a good composition teacher would say to do, including working closely with the instrumentalist, arriving at a thorough knowledge of how the instrument involved works, and evolving systems to govern the composition that are anything but one-dimensional. Cage uses maps of the solar system as a starting point for the composition of these etudes, and only the most superficial of appraisals would link this with the cosmic fraud of new age music and not the greater and grander classical music tradition. If anything, the "Freeman Etudes" have a majesty that is worthy of Handel, while the technical virtuosity that is an intrinsic part of the etudes is also part of a tradition stretching back through the history of solo violin compositions and concertos. Clearly, the collaboration with Zukofsky had rich results. These performances reach an intensity that is not always present in music that has a chance or indeterminate element, and they also dig into notions of the basic violin sound and mannerisms of playing that lovers of this instrument should find similar to a warm blanket on a cold night. The brevity of the etudes is also impressive considering their complexity: each of these sections averages around four minutes.

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