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John Cage: Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music

John Cage: Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music

by Melvin StraussMelvin Strauss

CD(Remastered / Bonus Tracks)

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This second installation in Mode Records' Complete John Cage Edition includes three versions of "Atlas Eclipticalis," for an ensemble of up to 86 players, and "Winter Music," for 1 to 20 pianos. In two of the performances, conducted by the composer, the pieces are played simultaneously. In the third performance, they are played separately. Cage derived the score for "Atlas Eclipticalis" from celestial maps that showed the positions of the stars in relation to the sun. He described the piece as a "heavenly illustration of nirvana," and said that a performance "should be like looking into the sky on a clear night and seeing the stars." He created the score for "Winter Music" by using the I Ching and incorporated the imperfections in the paper he wrote it on in the compositional process. The two combined performances, recorded in live concerts at the Cornish Institute in Seattle in 1983, use a chamber ensemble and three pianos, and each lasts 80 minutes. Both are spare in the extreme, with sometimes as much as a minute elapsing between sounds. The sounds, some long and some short, appear mostly in isolation, with the overlaps taking on the significance of major events. The spaciousness of the pieces, with their unpredictable punctuations of sound, is very much an aural analog of a visual scan of the night sky punctuated by the light of stars. The two performances are virtually indistinguishable in their overall effect. The individual performance of "Atlas Eclipticalis" was made under the composer's supervision at Middlebury College in 1988 and includes 75 of the 86 parts. In this version, which lasts about 30 minutes, the pace is accelerated, and relative to the earlier performances, the piece is teeming with eventfulness. The analogy with the night sky retains its power and for some listeners may feel more compelling than the earlier versions since looking at the sky one sees not one star at a time, but many. This version offers greater timbral variety and the absence of the pianos is a positive change since their chords sometimes seemed like jarringly tonal intrusions in the combined versions of the scores. The composer also supervised the 10-minute version of "Winter Music," made in 1991, and it has an energy that was not discernible when it was simultaneously played with "Atlas." The two 80-minute versions of the combined pieces are important for their documentary value, but their extreme spareness, the very audible audience noise, and the dicey quality of the recorded sound make it difficult to imagine anyone but the most fervent Cageian listening to them purely for pleasure. The third CD, however, is a highly attractive presentation of two of the composer's most important works.

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Product Details

Release Date: 02/27/2007
Label: Mode
UPC: 0764593000624
catalogNumber: 3
Rank: 112140


  1. Work(s): Atlas Eclipticalis / Winter Music
  2. Work(s): Atlas Eclipticalis / Winter Music
  3. Atlas Eclipticalis, for orchestra (parts for 86 musicians)
  4. Winter Music, for 1 to 20 pianos

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