Four and a Half Cough-Free Minutes

Via The Rambler via Alex Ross (and sired by Seattle Slew), here’s the video of the BBC Symphony Orchestra playing Cage’s 4’33” at the Barbican in 2004. For inscrutable reasons that I imagine would have perplexed Cage, the audience suppresses their coughing until between movements (I mean, they don’t often hold back much during normal symphonic works, now, do they?). Swelled to such proportions, the piece really does become an enormous joke, but one that the polite British seem eager to appreciate.


  1. says

    The BBC 4’33” brought to mind my favorite performance of the piece some years ago by the University of Kansas Symphonic Band. It was part of a national concerence of the Society of Composers, and Cage was in attendance. The band looked terrific and performed with great seriousness and concentration. It was a beautiful event as well as a welcome contrast to much of the other music played at the conference.

  2. Julian says

    If the audience wasn’t meant to suppress their coughs, and the piece isn’t meant to be taken comically, then why did he write it in three movements in the first place?? Why not just write a single silent piece?

  3. Mark Surya says

    To answer Julian’s question, I think it’s to take the concept even farther.
    IF 4’33 exsists to show that anything is music if you call it music (That is to say, Cage called 4’33 a piece of music-therefore, any sound that occurs during it is apart of the piece. Since the orchestra is doing nothing, any sound naturally made is considered music.) To further prove that anything is music once you consider it so, why not place it in the ‘classical’ form?

  4. Samuel Vriezen says

    That would have been a different piece. I think the three movements certainly, in each performance I’ve witnessed, have a character of their own. Anyway, a lot has been written about this piece and I usually advise people to read Larry Solomon’s online 4’33” article, which is great:

  5. Andy says

    I was at this performance and (surprise) there was one smartass who decided to cough really loudly at one point – presumably to get on the radio! Funnily enough, the feeling in the first movement was quite intense, like everybody was thinking “ulp, what’s gonna happen?”, but much more relaxed for the next two.

  6. Peter says

    I heard this performance live on BBC radio. Beforehand, the radio engineers disabled an automated device which launched into a taped error message (“Normal service has been disrupted, please stand by”, etc) when more than 1 minute of silence was detected on-air. With the coughing, there was no need to disable this.