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John Cage

Atlas Eclipticalis With Winter Music (3CD)


Originally released as a 4LP set back in the early days of Mode Records, the first two discs of this 3CD set document the two live performances of John Cage's 1961 orchestral work Atlas Eclipticalis played simultaneously with 1957's Winter Music (in a version for three pianos) recorded at Seattle's Cornish Institute on December 11th 1983. Disc three presents what the label rather grandly describes as an "all-star" recording of all 86 instrumental parts of Atlas Eclipticalis, (the first of its kind) recorded under the composer's supervision at the John Cage At Wesleyan festival in 1988 - the "stars" include the Arditti Quartet, Alvin Lucier and Christian Wolff - and an version of Winter Music directed by Stephen Drury, overdubbing four pianists five times to get the required 20-piano result. As ever, the CDs are accompanied by an erudite and comprehensive set of liner notes, including, amongst other things, facsimiles of Cage's handwritten performing instructions and essays on the works by the composer, Matthew Kocmieroski, Don Gillespie and Stephen Drury.

While not questioning for a moment Gillespie and Drury's assertion that Atlas was the major Cage work of the 60s (like Concert for Piano and Orchestra was for the 50s and Sonatas and Interludes for the 40s), the Seattle performances are still a tough listen. One wonders whether it is really necessary to sit down and concentrate furiously all the way through, or let the mind wander ("if the mind wanders, let it", as the composer once famously wrote). But even if you choose to spin this while you busy yourself with other more mundane activities such as picking mushrooms or consulting the I Ching, the occasional fortissimo percussion crashes will soon shake you out of Ambient mode. The fuller textures on the 1988 86-part version are more engrossing, though for my money the late orchestral number pieces 103 and 108 are more satisfying. The 20-piano version of Winter Music is much more fun, its multitracked jagged clusters and pointy staccatos getting almost funky. Cage completists who missed out on the earlier LP box set (me!) can rejoice; it's a thrill to see this sitting on my shelves, even if I wonder how many times I'll return to it in the years to come.
--- Dan Warburton, www.paristransatlantic.com/, April 2007

Cat. number: mode 3/6
Year: 2007

CD 1 & 2

Atlas Eclipticalis  (1961)
for chamber ensemble
with Winter Music  (1957)
for 3 pianos
Live performances, 11 December 1983
Cornish Theater at the Cornish Institute, Seattle, Washington
CD 1: Performance I, 6:30 pm  (80:00)
CD 2: Performance II, 8:30 pm  (79:59)
The New Performance Group
John Cage, conductor

Note: tape hiss and some distortion are present due to the limitations of the analogue source material

CD 3


Atlas Eclipticalis  (1961)   (29:44)
for orchestra
Live performance, 26 February 1988
Crowell Hall at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
The Wesleyan Symphony Orchestra with The Hartt Contemporary Players and The Arditti Quartet
Melvin Strauss, conductor

Winter Music  (1957)   (10:17)
for 20 pianos
The Callithumpian Consort: Alanna Battat, Johanna Kovitz, Guy Livingston
Mina Yang, pianos
Stephen Drury, director
(DDD recordings)

The long awaited reissue of Mode's second LP set, remastered with bonus tracks.

Cage's relationship with the Cornish Institute in Seattle dates back to the 1930s, when he taught there and performed as accompanist for many dance pieces. Cornish was also the scene of several of his musical discoveries and innovations.

  • Cage's celebrated return to the Cornish Institute in 1983 led to these recordings of his conducting Atlas Eclipticalis performed simultaneously with Winter Music - a rare opportunity to hear Cage perform his own works.

  • Two complete 80-minute long performances are presented here, captured live in concert.

  • New 96khz/24-bit mastering made from the original analog tapes.

  • The original liner notes by John Cage and the New Performance Group's Matthew Kocmieroski are supplemented with new essays on Atlas Eclipticalis by Cage's long-time colleague and publisher Don Gillespie, and on Winter Music by Stephen Drury.

  • Originally released as a 4-LP set on Mode in 1986, reissued on CD for the first time.

The first recording of all 86 instrumental parts of Atlas Eclipticalis, recorded under Cage's supervision at the "John Cage at Wesleyan Festival" in 1988 with all-star players including the Arditti Quartet, Alvin Lucier, Christian Wolff, Neely Bruce and others.

Winter Music, overdubbed by four pianists to perform the parts for 20 pianos, directed by acclaimed Cage interpreter Stephen Drury.