Padova: a concert by John Cage in 1959

Cage and Mike Bongiorno

Cage and Mike Bongiorno during the TV show

I have noticed some Italian websites and blogs speculate about the presence of John Cage in Italy, noting that despite his well known participation to the TV show “Lascia o Raddoppia” in 1959, there is a certain confusion upon the subject.

Here’s my little contribution to the story. It starts back in November 1958, during the second journey of Cage in Italy. Luciano Berio had invited him to the Studio di Fonologia della Rai in Milan, in order to compose a piece: Fontana mix. In January 1959 Cage produced Aria for Cathy Berberian, as we also read in [1].

John Cage, Padova 1959 (source: Il Pozzetto. Un orizzonte aperto, 1992, p. 129)

Cage arrived in Padova in February with Merce Cunningham, and they stayed in the house of Sylvano Bussotti’s aunt. They were introduced to several people from the Circolo Pozzetto, a meeting place for artists and intellectuals, a dynamic reality where art, music, poetry, theatre and communist politics acted together to renovate the stagnant cultural life in Padova (unfortunately for a short period – from 1956 to 1960 – due to political reasons). Cage and Cunningham also met Teresa Rampazzi, who was at the time still interested in acoustic sounds (she played the piano) before becoming an electroacoustic music composer.

In January and during the week of the concert, Cage participated to the TV show “Lascia e Raddoppia”. This is confirmed by oral witnesses (Sylvano Bussotti and Francesca Rampazzi, the composer’s daughter) and also by documents at the New York Public Library (http://catalog.nypl.org/). These are scores, sketches and audio documents labelled as “Sounds of Venice”, For solo television performer (Composed in Milan, 1959, and first performed on the Italian television show Lascia o raddoppia). [2]

The Padua concert took place on February the 7th 1959, with Teresa Rampazzi, Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Sylvano Bussotti. They played Music for Piano, Winter Music, Variations I & II, Music Walk. At the end Cage played a tape of Concert for piano and orchestra, recorded by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk orchestra in Cologne, with David Tudor and the musical direction  by Cage himself [3]. The place was quite small, and Bussotti remembers there were just 50 persons overwhelmed with excitement. Several were friends or family members who had accompanied the musicians. As Francesca Rampazzi recalls (she was 14 years old at that time) , there were two pianos, one was on the stage, the other one was put on ‘T’ like shape runways.

Francesco Loperfido collected memories of the event for the first time in 1992 in the book Il Pozzetto. Un orizzonte aperto. Ettore Luccini e la sua lotta contro l’isolamento politico e culturale della sinistra, Padova, Programma 1992.

To the best of my knowledge, the only articles devoted to Cage’s Italian journeys is the one by Paolo Coteni, John Cage in Italia, «Konsequenz – Rivista di musiche contemporanee diretta da Girolamo de Simone», n. 8 – Nuova serie, anno X, 2003, pp. 37-41; and as Paul notes hereafter a shorter essay in Umberto Ecos The Open Work (called “Zen in the West”) that describes Cage’s TV appearances in Italy. I also thank my student Matteo Florian who helped me in collecting information.

[1] Pritchett James, The Music of John Cage, «Music in The 20th Century», Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, p. 128.

[2]  John Cage’s theatre pieces: notations and performances di William Fetterman, Harwood Academic Publishers, 1996 (pp. 32-46), from which one could also find other references (Google books).

[3] The program is presented in 2 very short articles in Il Gazzettino and Il Resto del Carlino (February 7th, 1959).

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3 responses to “Padova: a concert by John Cage in 1959

  1. There is also a shorter essay in Umberto Ecos The Open Work (called “Zen in the West”) that describes Cage’s TV appearances in Italy and is likely to make one a bit depressed. Well at least it worked for me.

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  2. Pingback: “The music of the future would sound like this” | IN MEDIA RES·

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