John Cage: Four Minutes, Thirty-Three Seconds

March 28, 2008 at 04:32 AM · If I arrange this piece for violin, should I play it at a recital?

Replies (59)

March 28, 2008 at 04:33 AM · Too cliched if you ask me. But it depends on how many people who know it where you live.

I won't further comment on the use of the word "masterpiece".

March 28, 2008 at 06:29 AM · "Play" is not the right word; maybe "present." And be sure to follow it up with 0'0", which Cage composed in 1962. See the Wikipedia entry on 4'33" for a description of the premiere performance and lots of other interesting tidbits.

If your recital is accompanied, a perfect pairing on the program would be a completely unknown and possibly unfinished piece, "Nienterienzil Chnyet II: A Fantasy for Masked Pianist" allegedly by one "Urel Praef." The first 7 measures were printed in the Amateur Chamber Music Players newsletter in November 1984; I have never been able to find more, though the same 7 measures could probably be repeated for whatever duration was deemed desirable. Since I doubt you will find it anywhere, I'll repeat the description of the music: "It's especially crafted for the very shy pianist who has everything but music soft enough to play in public."

March 28, 2008 at 12:47 PM · Question regarding Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds:

- Does it sound better on a Del Jesu or a Strad?

- Do you take the repeats?

- What is the correct bowing?

- Are there any alternate fingerings?

- What about the Cadenza?

:) Sandy

March 28, 2008 at 01:21 PM · I don't know about cliché, it's all about how you carry it off.

One of my colleague of yore had a recital and he programmed it-the funny part being-that he had to perform it for the jury....well anyway-the show had a great turnout-most ALL of whom were musicians and knew what was about to go on. He made a VERY theatrical show of it-and most everyone in the house had a hard time not laughing. Of course all he did was sit down, check his watch, and flip the keyboard open and closed rather loudly quite a bit, as well as stare maniacally at the keys-as if they were about to play themselves. That's all he actually did-but it was the presentation of it that made it funny-it was the acting involved not the actions. But it was still hilarious for knowing musicians, and baffling for the un-initiated.

It's all about presentation, as with any other piece. If you just calmly walk on stage, leisurely put the violin up and down a couple of times, easily check your watch, and then wander off relaxedly--then, yes I would call that a bit cliché, from an ivory-towered-musicians perspective.

March 28, 2008 at 01:22 PM · Sander, which movement are you talking about?

March 28, 2008 at 02:46 PM · There are movements?

March 28, 2008 at 03:00 PM · Yep, three of them.

March 28, 2008 at 03:03 PM · I wish it was on the juke box in my local.



March 28, 2008 at 03:25 PM · I think it depends. If you are making your debut at Carnegie Hall then I would defenitely say no.

But if you want to perform it during a college recital then YES. This is the perfect time to do it actually, because your audience may not know of John Cage or what he was about. I think a concert is way more interesting to me when I can learn something and if you do it in the right way your audience may get a kick out of it. Why not???

I would add a note in the program about it, so the audience knows what to expect. Or have it be a surprise. I really think you should make it a transcription for violin and piano. You'll never have the guts to do this again. When you become really successful there will be too much riding on your reputation to chance it so have the fun now and in the meantime you can make so many people aware of this composer and even make a philosophical statement.

March 28, 2008 at 03:35 PM · Unfortunately, John Cage was not the first with 4'33". That honor belongs to the Czech composer Ervn Schulhoff, who beat him to it decades earlier with his piece "In Futurum". Composed entirely of rests and spurious dynamic markings, it was a product of Dadaism, the post-WWI social/artistic movement. Shulhoff also beat Gershwin to the jazz piano concerto: his concerto predates Rhapsody in Blue by a year. Cage was also influenced by Dadaism, but I find his compositions to be an affectation rather than the genuine thing.

One of the most interesting aspects of history for me is how some people get all the credit--even when they don't deserve it, such as Cage. There are lots of other examples of people that either made simultaneous discoveries, or earlier ones.

Anyone heard of Alfred Russell Wallace?

March 28, 2008 at 04:09 PM · Incidentally this is my favorite work by John Cage :)

March 28, 2008 at 04:53 PM · I checked out Cage's book "SILENCE" from the Old Saybrook library via Inter Library Loan once.

March 28, 2008 at 05:07 PM · Nope, though I heard it at grad school one summer. The performer altered it by carrying in a gaudy deep pink change purse and making a show of pulling out a stopwatch. Taking liberties, if you ask me. Sue

March 28, 2008 at 07:31 PM · Yes! I have performed it and I must say i was perfect! Not one wrong note. LOL It shoudn't be hard to arrange for violin. I didn't even write it down, did the whole thing in my head. Did you know that this piece is on the jukebox at the Under-the- Hill Saloon in Natchez, Mississippi?

March 28, 2008 at 08:10 PM · One of my favorites. I sure nail all the notes every time.

March 28, 2008 at 08:08 PM · Two questions:

1) Is there a performance of this work on You Tube?

2) Should this be performed with sheet music or from memory? :)

March 28, 2008 at 08:27 PM · The Heifetz/Toscanini version is Three Minutes and Forty-Nine Seconds.

March 28, 2008 at 08:34 PM · Sandy - nice!

March 28, 2008 at 10:06 PM ·

March 28, 2008 at 11:01 PM · Incredible performance. I didn't hear one single note that didn't belong.

March 29, 2008 at 01:10 AM · Can you imagine spending the money to buy the sheet music for 4'33"?

March 29, 2008 at 01:26 AM · [this space intentionally left blank]

March 29, 2008 at 02:53 AM · The sheet "music" is sold by the publisher C. F. Peters in two versions at different prices!


Edition Number EP 6777

Tacet, any instrument or combination of instruments

See also EP 6777a

Price $ 5.95

Bassoon (Solo)

Cello (Solo)

Clarinet (Solo)

Contemporary Large Ensemble/Orchestra

Contemporary Medium Ensemble

Contemporary Small Ensemble

Double Bass (Solo)

Flute/Piccolo (Solo)

Guitar/Lute (Solo)

Harp (Solo)

Horn (Solo)

Oboe (Solo)


Piano (Solo)

Trombone (Solo)

Trumpet (Solo)

Tuba (Solo)

Viola (Solo)

Violin (Solo)

Date of Composition 1952

Duration 4'33"


4'33" (orig. version, proportional notation)

Edition Number EP 6777A

Tacet, any instrument or combination of instruments (original version, in proportional notation); see also EP6777

Price $ 11.50

Date of Composition 1952

Duration 4 min 33 secs

March 29, 2008 at 06:33 AM · The last time I heard is a violist missed one of the mevment breaks (between the first movment and the second movment, the tricky one) and just repeted the previous bar one time to many! Very embarrassing!

March 29, 2008 at 10:57 AM · Here's what I really find annoying in every performance I've ever heard of this piece:

- The audience applause between movements.

- Coughing and other ignoble sounds from the audience.

- Sound that doesn't project to the back of the hall.

- Performers thinking bad thoughts.

- Cellular phones ringing.

- A violinist backstage practicing the Vivaldi A-Minor Concerto.

- The rustling of paper as the audience reads the program notes.

- Too much rubato.

March 29, 2008 at 11:13 AM · In postmodernism, no one can hear you scream.

And Munch's painting is outdone.

March 29, 2008 at 12:01 PM · Interesting. Let me munch on that for a moment.

March 29, 2008 at 02:10 PM · No doubt about it, had John Cage lived longer, he most certainly would have written a Concerto for Botox Injection and Unprepared Orchestra, Oops #312.

March 29, 2008 at 02:59 PM · "Here's what I really find annoying in every performance I've ever heard of this piece:

- The audience applause between movements.

- Coughing and other ignoble sounds from the audience.

- Sound that doesn't project to the back of the hall.

- Performers thinking bad thoughts.

- Cellular phones ringing.

- A violinist backstage practicing the Vivaldi A-Minor Concerto.

- The rustling of paper as the audience reads the program notes.

- Too much rubato."

Then you've really missed the point. Whether you think it is music or not is not the point either.

The development of classical music has always been behind the times, especially in relation to the development of visual and conceptual art. Mostly because it's made up of musicians who sit on a style and refuse to budge or look forward.

March 29, 2008 at 07:32 PM · "Then you've really missed the point. Whether you think it is music or not is not the point either.

The development of classical music has always been behind the times, especially in relation to the development of visual and conceptual art. Mostly because it's made up of musicians who sit on a style and refuse to budge or look forward."

Interesting reaction to what was not really meant to be taken seriously. But it did make me think:

1. I'm not sure what point I have missed. And whether I think it is music or not most certainly IS the point. I have as much right to my opinion as anyone else.

2. If you are saying that the only good music is in the present, and that the past is "behind the times" and therefore somehow has less meaning, then I don't really agree with that either.

3. Visual art is a completely different art from from music. In fact, it is (at least, to me) an entirely different type of experience...period.

4. OK, so I'll be contrary. When it comes to music, what is so wonderful about looking forward? I hear a lot of classical music written today, and much of it strikes me as contrived and lacking even the freedom to write an actual, honest-to-goodness melody. I think that too many composers today are so obsessed with being "original" that they stop being genuine.

5. It has always seemed to me that the true test of any work of art is if can stand the test of time and survive repetition. A great work of music grows in its impact the more you get familiar with it. I think that's true with any kind of music. I can listen to the Beethoven Violin Concerto and hear something new in it every time that intensifies the impact. But (as well written as it is), I can take only so much of the Red Violin.

But then, that's just my opinion.



March 29, 2008 at 10:36 PM · Of course you are entitled to your opinion, I'm merely debating it. I understand why you would not like "ignorable sounds from the audience" however those are all sounds that are there even when performing a Beethoven Symphony. This piece only brings them to light. I am not a particular fan of this piece or of John Cage but he has merit and the truth is it's not supposed to be enjoyed in the same way as a traditional piece.

The debate between old music and new music is a fascinating one. It makes me think of this dog I once had. I would occassionally point to a bird or an object, wanting his gaze to follow the direction of my finger but he would stare at my finger instead. Personally I prefer learning about and playing music from the baroque era as opposed to modern contemporary music. But composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart were always pointing ahead while some continue to gaze at their hand.

March 29, 2008 at 11:24 PM · "But composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart were always pointing ahead while some continue to gaze at their hand."

I like that. I'm going to quote you.

March 30, 2008 at 02:25 AM · Wasn't Bach considered to be "old fashioned" by his contemporaries? And Mozart wasn't a revolutionary in even the least sense.

Beethoven, on the other hand...

March 30, 2008 at 03:20 AM · I can take 4' 33" or leave it but I am in great anticipation of the following:

"Safely holding the world record for being the longest piece of music is John Cage's piece "ASLSP" (As Slow As Possible) for solo organ. The performance started on 5th September 2001 in a church in Germany, and is due for a grand finale in the year 2639.

Luckily the concert is free and you can come and go without waiting for an appropriate break. The performer is not noted, although I expect he is not paid, saving a hefty fee and the ire of the unions. The upkeep of the organ appears to be paid by keen donators to their "sponsor a year for 1000 Euro" scheme.

Over the past four years John's music has built slowly but surely from a dramatic 2 year silence. Then came octave G#s and a B, before the harmony was disambiguated last year with the addition of octave E to make a striking E major chord. The big news a couple of weeks ago was that the octave G# and B were taken away, leaving the E's.

Considering that when Wagner started The Ring on an Eb provoked commentators like Robert Donington to discuss this single note's meaning in relation to purity, birth, a man's desire for rebirth and Wagner's relationship with his mother, I'm sure there is plenty of scope to delve into the deep meaning the Cage to keep us occupied.

I can't imagine the emotional and philosophical response the listeners will get next January when the F# comes in against the E."

Oh, and we must not forget a much noisier piece than Cage's 4' 33"- Sir Malcolm Arnold's "A Grand Grand Overture for large orchestra, organ, three vacuum cleaners, floor polisher and rifle"

March 30, 2008 at 05:33 AM · What was Cage's point with this piece? That it has no point? That is still a point.

I suspect he was being purposefully vague, in a fashionable sort of way.

Ah, fashions. They come and go.

Vague means lack of information and lack of communication. Being cagey. Hmmmm.

Possibly his silence is a silence that is designed to impart postmodernist pseudo religious impressions of a truth that is ultimately meaninglessness; that is representative of nothingness. That's a pretty daggy outlook.

I prefer Munch's honest to God scream.

March 30, 2008 at 05:27 AM · I've heard two theories of this piece. The first is that silence can be it's own form of music. The other I heard was that's he's stressing the importance of silence IN music (grand pauses, etc), but taken to the very extreme. I'm not sure of Cage's intentions, but ragardless, he was a very strange man.

March 30, 2008 at 01:17 PM · There are certain things that artists of various sorts feel they have to do for intellectually compelling reasons even if most people see no artistic value in them. John Cage exemplifies this in music. Painters who spray paint a canvas in one color or do nothing with the canvas exemplify this in visual arts. I can see why, for intellectual reasons, someone feels that it has to be done simply to get the option off the table, but that does not mean anyone has to like it or be interested in it.

October 27, 2013 at 12:30 PM · This says it all:

BTW, watch out for the first page turn in the 1st violin part - it's almost impossible if you're on your own, so you need a desk partner who's really on the ball.

October 27, 2013 at 03:21 PM · To put John Cage into even more perspective, how many of you know that he was once a TV game show contestant, in Italy of all places?

In 1958 he participated in the Italian version of the $64,000 Question ("Lascia o Raddoppia?"), hosted by Mike Bongiorno, as an expert on fungus. He won 5 million lire, which back then was enough to buy a small apartment.

October 27, 2013 at 05:02 PM · Charlatan

October 27, 2013 at 05:17 PM · I wouldn't go quite as far as to call him a charlatan. Cage was capable of writing some very beautiful music. Problem is, all we ever hear about is his stuff that's way out there.

October 27, 2013 at 05:26 PM · It could be that Cage was for music what Marcel Duchamp was for visual art.

For those unfamilar with the latter, Duchamp was the scuptor/painter who took a urinal, put it on its side, and defined it a work of art, calling it "Fountain".

It was rejected by the admissions committee of the art show for which it had been created, but that was almost 100 years ago and people are still talking about it now.

October 27, 2013 at 05:40 PM · The hardest part of this piece for John Cage was thinking of a title.

Isn't it strange that 4 33 is total silence and "The Sound of Silence" is beautiful music?

October 28, 2013 at 02:31 AM · john cage was a philosopher using music to prove a point. joke is on anyone that just puts 4'33 into a program :)

October 28, 2013 at 01:48 PM · It could make a good final encore, rather like If-you-want-any-more-you-can-sing-it-yourself is for singers; but don't you need a speedy luthier on stage with you, to open up the violin and close it again after 4'33'? Or maybe you can modify the piece by just taking the back off and putting it back on again using something like blu tack (velcro is too noisy) - using your spare violin, of course.

October 28, 2013 at 04:15 PM · What people don't realize is the technical proficiency with which Mr. performs this piece.

In the middle crescendo where it goes from slurred semi quaver rests to a full bariolage of demisemiquaver rests into the final drawn out rest that spans the entire final two measures is no easy feat to pull off in utter silence.

October 28, 2013 at 05:15 PM · It is a mistake to judge john cages work with the same criteria as you would Beethoven, Samuel Barber or Schönberg for that matter. And it's not very clever to point out how you can't really 'hum the melodies' and hear the hollywood string section.

It just requires a completely different approach, and the insight to be gained from it is philosophical - and this insight can certainly affect one's music making in classical genres.

October 28, 2013 at 11:20 PM · I have heard two other works by Cage, one a sort of trio consisting of Gregorian chant sung alongside two other parts (I can't remember whether they were vocal or instrumental), each of a different European genre, and the other his foray (yes, I mean THAT spelling!) into writing Japanese music. I couldn't relate to the latter (which is why I might not have made a good ethnomusicologist had I tried my hand at it - It's a valuable profession); I thought I related to the former, but I didn't think the piece was "going" anywhere.

We have to appreciate that both Cage and Stockhausen related to non-European music in a way most of us can't (I might just cope with quartertones, but the mountain Turkish shrillpipe stuff is way above my head), and this may be what makes them so intractable to many of us, but not to all.

October 28, 2013 at 11:25 PM · Oh, and Hannah, why couldn't you have waited ONE MORE MINUTE before submitting this topic (You submitted at four thirtyTWO!!!!!)?????

October 29, 2013 at 07:07 PM · The Galamian bowings and fingerings for this one are the best!

October 29, 2013 at 10:11 PM · I haven't had much luck finding a full violin transcription of this piece. The only parts I've been able to find just say "tacet".

October 30, 2013 at 04:25 AM · Its great for making love to, albeit a tad on the long side.

October 30, 2013 at 07:13 AM · @Charlie, try this:

complete with that forum's usual plethora of irreverent comments.

@Stephen, I believe a "gentleman" was once suggestively defined in song by a pop singer, the late Eartha Kitt, as one who "takes his time".

October 30, 2013 at 09:50 AM · is that why she`s late?

November 3, 2013 at 06:25 PM · My final comment on this discussion is.....

November 3, 2013 at 06:25 PM · And I repeat:....

November 5, 2013 at 01:32 PM · Is there a download version for a ring tone?

November 5, 2013 at 09:56 PM · As a teacher, how does one coach someone on this piece, I wonder?

"Play it again. This time with more feeling."

"Louder. They have to hear it in the last row."

"Too loud. You're going to drown out the accompanist."

"You're sharp."

"I didn't hear the grace note."


November 6, 2013 at 03:23 PM · Sander, some of your suggestions as a teacher are appalling. If there's a problem in the playing you must tell the pupil how to solve it, not just highlight the problem. What you say on the first three will depend on the pupil, but you certainly can't expect the pupil to solve no. 4 (and with no. 5 you will probably have to demonstrate how to play the grace note).

What you have to do with no 4 is instruct the pupil how to make a dead weight sheet and fasten it to the underside of the lid of the piano (or inside of the part of the violin you tap) so that the sound is at a lower pitch - Hopefully blu tack, perhaps fortified with metal filings, will do the trick, but you may have to use something more tenacious, which will be a real pain to remove. Anyway I'm not teaching this piece, so the ball's in your court.

If the problem had been "too flat" there'd probably be no alternative to sanding off some wood (I don't know whether you could get away with just the magnet trick - see Sarah Salmi's "What happened to my violin" for details? But who am I to presume to make suggestions as to how YOU, SANDER can do THIS job!).

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