Cage’s Red Pencil

I just received Michael Hicks’s and Christian Asplund’s book on Christian Wolff, part of the University of Illinois Press’s “American Composers” series in which my Robert Ashley book will be coming out in October. Don’t have time to read it at the moment (my current summer pleasure reading is another wolf: Virginia Woolf’s Orlando), but I’m looking forward. Browsing through it I immediately notice two startling things.

The first is a reprint of one of Wolff’s early exercises in first-species counterpoint with parallel and hidden fifths and octaves marked for correction by – John Cage! That’s right, apparently Wolff’s first composition lessons with Cage were in species counterpoint, like they were frickin’ Haydn and Beethoven or somebody! I had no idea Cage ever insisted that a student learn counterpoint. My entire mental universe is in flux at the moment. “The purpose of these technical studies, Cage explained, was to learn how one develops discipline.” (p. 10) Right on! Right on! I guess.

Less earth-shaking yet peculiar is that there is a footnote quoting one of my replies to a comment on this blog. This is a whole new way to get quoted. Maybe I’d better watch what I say to people.


  1. Tom DePlonty says

    Wolff mentions the counterpoint exercises in his interview with William Duckworth, in “Talking Music”.

  2. Michael Vincent Waller says

    Glorious sighting… But it definitely makes sense to me, Cage studying with Schoenberg, a master of counterpoint studies (e.g. Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint). Also, Nadia Boulanger seemed to firmly begin with first species counterpoint, no matter who her student was.

  3. says

    What if I write a paper in which I refer to your reference to Hicks/Asplund’s footnote quoting your reply to a comment on this blog?

    KG replies: You do and I’ll quote your paper in my next book!