October 17: Jennifer Iverson

Jennifer Iverson is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa.

Cage as Celebrity: Musik der Zeit 1954


Cage’s incendiary visit to the 1958 Darmstadt summer courses is widely understood as a key moment in the relationship between the American Cage and the European avant-garde. This paper recontextualizes the 1958 Darmstadt visit, arguing that it is the stormy close in an already long relationship. Cage had been in correspondence with Boulez since 1949, and his ideas were well known and discussed on Herbert Eimert’s Musikalisches Nachtprogramm on the WDR as early as 1952. This paper develops the argument that Cage and Tudor’s visit to Cologne in 1954, for a performance of Cage’s prepared piano works, was the key encounter. Using archival documents and correspondence, I show that Cage was treated like a celebrity amongst a small but influential faction of the European avant-garde. I furthermore show that the 1954 celebrity treatment of Cage and Tudor stemmed from competition amongst radio stations and festivals, and was deeply related to the evolution of early electronic music at the WDR. From this perspective, Darmstadt 1958 is perhaps the most visible public controversy, but certainly not the first or even the most important collision between Cage and the European avant-garde.