44 Harmonies from Apartment House 1776 (2CD)
Format: double CD
Genre: Compositional Form
Cage's "44 Harmonies" were originally written to form part of the sprawling bicentennial commission "Apartment House 1776", and take as their starting point late 18th century anthems and hymn tunes by William Billings, Jacob French, Andrew Law, James Lyon and the wonderfully-named Supply Belcher. Cage's compositional - or rather decompositional - method was to remove certain tones and extend others, and as James Pritchett points out in the (excellent as always for Mode) liners, he was delighted with the result. "You can recognise it as 18th century music, but it's suddenly brilliant in a new way. It is because each sound vibrates from itself, not from a theory," he commented. Irvine Arditti's arrangement of the Harmonies for his quartet forges a direct and clear link between this work and the earlier "String Quartet in Four Parts" (1950): both pieces explore pure yet totally non-functional diatonicism with refreshing openness and astonishing clarity - and no vibrato. As always the Arditti Quartet's reading is spotless, as is Irvine Arditti's own version of "Cheap Imitation", perhaps Cage's most beautiful homage to his beloved Satie. Taking the vocal line of the latter's "Socrate" - a highly influential if pale, often tedious, piece - and systematically transposing it up and down, note by note or bar by bar, Cage managed to retain the phrasing and rhythmic shape of Satie while producing something very much his own. Arditti's wan, flat tone is perfect - the second movement sounds as if it was recorded on one of those mass-produced half size Chinese fiddles they used to give to school kids, and the strange phantom glissandi of the third movement's col legno is as haunting as Cage's endlessly unravelling strands of melody.
--- Dan Warbuton, www.paristransatlantic.com, June 2005
Cat. number: mode 144/145