A REAL TREASURE HOUSE
Dialogues with and about John Cage,
reviewed by PATRIC STANDFORD
There are few qualified to supervise the assembly of an anthology of interviews like this, twenty-one in all covering more than 230 pages, than Peter Dickinson, composer, pianist, writer and broadcaster and -- particularly relevant in this context -- founder of a vitally active music department at the University of Keele in 1974 where he established a Centre for American Music. When he should have been retiring by the standards of less energetic creatures, he became Head of Music at the University of London's Institute of United States Studies, relinquishing that post after seven years in 2004 at the age of seventy.
This collection is a real treasure house of fascinating exchanges. Most of the interviews are with Dickinson himself, many for the BBC either in London or New York, and all of them are important -- exciting, relaxed, frank and revealing. The collection is divided into four main sections. The first, Cage and Friends, begins with the man himself in conversation with Dickinson in New York in 1987 when he was ever more widely recognised in academic circles and a year before his election as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard.
It ranges widely, from his childhood, through college days and Gertrude Stein, brief studies with, among others, Schoenberg '... I worshipped him ... for someone to come from another country and to know the language better than we did -- which he did -- was just fantastic ...' Then Zen and Martha Graham, some glimpses into his private life, and on around the great names of his contemporary world. In this section there are conversations with Merce Cunningham, Bonnie Bird, the founder of the American Dance Guild, David Tudor, the pioneer performance artist Jackson Mac Low and Minna Ledermann who helped form the League of Composers in 1923 and for over twenty years edited the magazine Modern Music which carried many American names to significant public notice.
Copyright © 22 May 2007
Patric Standford, Wakefield UK