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Article Title

The Theory of Silence

Keywords

John Cage

Abstract

It is quite possible that no piece of music has ever generated the conversation and debate as 4’33.” Written in 1952, this three-movement piece, in which the performer makes no audible sounds, opened up a brand new debate over what elements constitute music. Many musicians, disgusted at the lack of sound, have dismissed Cage’s landmark piece as a joke, something Cage himself was fearful of. It is assumed that a piece like 4’33” is a mindless stunt designed to bring attention to a composer while undermining the Western music tradition. Instead of advancing musical ideas, 4’33” has taken away all musical ideas—it has been stripped completely of sound. The question of whether or not 4’33” can be considered music will always be debated. However, that question should not be the focal point of the piece. Instead, the listener should focus on what Cage was trying to do. 4’33” was not an attempt to write a landmark piece on the scale of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. Instead, Cage’s aim was to cause his audience to focus—not on the music flowing from the stage, but on the sounds around them.

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