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In 1975 the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) invited John Cage to write a composition for the bicentennial birthday of the United States. The result was Lecture on the Weather, a multi-media work for twelve expatriate vocalists and/or players with independent

In 1975 the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) invited John Cage to write a composition for the bicentennial birthday of the United States. The result was Lecture on the Weather, a multi-media work for twelve expatriate vocalists and/or players with independent sound systems, magnetic tape, and film. Cage used texts by Henry David Thoreau, recordings of environmental sounds made by American composer Maryanne Amacher and a nature-inspired film by Chilean visual artist Luis Frangella. The composition opens with a spoken Preface and is arguably one of Cage’s most overtly political pieces. A year later the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and six major United States orchestras commissioned Cage to compose another work commemorating the United States bicentennial of the American Revolution. In response, he created Renga with Apartment House 1776, which follows his concept of a “music circus,” or simply, a musical composition with a multiplicity of events occurring simultaneously. Scored for voices, instrumental soloists and quartets, Renga with Apartment House is a multi-faceted work marked by layers of American hymns and folk tunes.

Cage’s United States Bicentennial compositions – and his other pieces created in the 1970s and 1980s – have received little attention from music scholars. Unique and provocative works within his oeuvre, these compositions raise many questions. Why was Cage commissioned to write these works? How did Cage pay tribute to this celebratory event in American history? What socio–political meanings are implied in these pieces? In this thesis I will provide political, cultural, and biographical contexts of these works. I will further examine their genesis, analyze their scores and selected performances, reflect on their meaning and critical implications and consider the reception of these works. My research draws on unpublished documents housed in the CBC’s archives at McGill University, the archives of C. F. Peters, the New York Public Library and it builds on research of such scholars as David W. Bernstein, William Brooks, Benjamin Piekut, and Christopher Shultis. This thesis offers new information and perspectives on Cage’s creative work in the 1970s and aims at filling a significant gap in Cage scholarship.

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    • Negotiating music and politics: John Cage's United States bicentennial compositions "Lecture on the Weather" and "Renga with Apartment House 1776
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    2015
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