John Cage, 4’33”, and Four Colors of Silence

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Four different examples of the handbill for the first New York City performance of 4’33” in 1954

 

The premiere of John Cage’s composition 4’33” took place in Woodstock, New York, in August 1952. The piece wouldn’t be publicly performed again until April 14, 1954 by David Tudor , at Carl Fischer Hall in New York City. April 14th is Ruination Day, on which a number of historical disasters have occurred, as documented in the Gillian Welch composition of the same name, and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to claim that this evening in New York City destroyed the traditional ways in which people perceived music.

This New York performance was likely where many of Cage’s fellow musicians and poets first encountered it, making that evening a landmark event not only in the history of conceptual art, but also a formative event for a certain attitude in the New York arts scene exemplified by the New York School and Fluxus. It is tempting to imagine who may have been in the audience, but, aside from a review the next morning in the New York Times, I’ve had difficulty finding many accounts of it in published records.

Two different handbills for the first night exist, one in a larger format on newsprint which mentions 4’33” explicitly, , and a second, smaller format handbill pictured above. At least four colors exist – light blue, cream, green, and gray, a fact I didn’t realize until I discovered this set of the cards in an apartment on the Upper West Side last month. I’ve never managed to find any ephemera documenting the Woodstock premiere, making this perhaps the first printed ephemera in relation to Cage’s most famous composition. And back in 1954, if you wanted to see David Tudor perform this piece, tickets could be ordered directly from John Cage himself with a SASE and a check for $1.80 made out to David Tudor, sent to Cage’s 12 East 17th Street address, as this card points out.

[Cage, John] David Tudor. Handbill for Two Recitals by David Tudor, including the First New York Performance of 4’33. New York: [1954. 4 x 8 1/4″, offset printed on recto. Inquire

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