Well prepared… Getting ready for John Cage’s ‘Sonatas and Interludes’
Later this month we welcome the acclaimed pianist David Greilsammer, who presents his much talked-about ‘Scarlatti : Cage’ show. The programme is characteristically thought-provoking, as David pits the glittering sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti against John Cage’s more modern ‘Sonatas and Interludes’. The latter set of works is written for what is known as prepared piano, but what does that really mean?
Prepared piano was born of Cage’s own composition needs, seeking a percussive sound when no percussion section was available to him. As he persevered with his new invention, the possibilities for it and his music grew. He discovered that adding objects to the interior of the piano, on strings, under strings or between strings, altered the sound of the instrument greatly. Different materials created different effects, some ringing like bells, others dampening and more percussive. To achieve this, Cage utilised metal screws, bolts, nuts, bits of plastic and pieces of rubber; the size, weight and material key to the end result.
Of course Cage wasn’t the first to discover that a piano might be used in an unusual way; one of his own tutors, the American composer Henry Cowell, composed pieces which saw the player having to beat, twang and strum the piano strings like… well, a stringed instrument. Other composers, too, have seen fit to made adjustments to the piano in order to achieve a new sound; some were more invasive than others; such as Conlon Nancarrow, who applied nails to the hammers.
We cherish our Steinway Concert Grands, so we won’t be banging nails into them; David will, though, carefully insert the required bolts, screws and rubber bands to one of the pianos. To do this he will follow instructions laid out by John Cage himself. If you’d like to understand more about preparing a piano, check out the video below; and to hear it in action, alongside an un-prepared piano, make sure you join us on 24 February for this fascinating concert.
Friday 24 February, 8.30pm
Tickets £15, £10, £5 Students/U18s (limited availability) (plus fees)