Cage’s Cage

Christopher Reid

  • Empty Words: Writings ‘73-’78 by John Cage
    Marion Boyars, 187 pp, £12.00, June 1980, ISBN 0 7145 2704 1

The writings and reported sayings of famous composers have a strange, but respectable, literary status. Their musical status is, of course, more doubtful, even where a great composer is concerned. The Stravinsky/Robert Craft dialogues provide a case in point: can these unlikely confections, stilted essays in what one might call the comedy of conversational manners, really be taken seriously? In a sense, yes, they can. Their rhetoric – an arch, Nabokovian, dictionary English, a formality about as ‘lifelike’ as the frigid give-and-take we find in Compton-Burnett, or in Valéry’s Dialogues – does have its persuasive power. For the while at any rate, we are transported to a pastoral domain where reminiscence, opinion, gossip and verbal playfulness are indulged for all they are worth.

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