Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Callahan, Daniel M. “The Gay Divorce of Music and Dance: Choreomusicality and the Early Works of Cage-Cunningham.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 71 (Summer 2018): 439-525.

Merce Cunningham’s early choreography, particularly his collaborations with John Cage and fascination with the music of Erik Satie, demonstrates an interdependence of life and work as well as a marriage between music and dance that are fundamental to understanding his modernist divorce of choreography from music and narrative. The first Cage-Cunningham collaboration, Credo in Us (1942), reflects Cage’s unhappy marriage and blames the bourgeois conventions of American society and their insistence on maintaining the appearance of a happy heterosexual marriage. Cage’s score suggests this with a dismissive call for bourgeois favorites “Beethoven, Sibelius, Shostakovich, or whatever” to be played on a phonograph. Other early Cunningham choreographies, including Cage collaboration Four Walls and his Revivalist solo for Appalachian Spring, also deal with themes of marriage and exhibit clear relationships between dance and music. As Cunningham’s choreography began to meaningfully diverge from its accompanying music, his settings of Satie’s music and collaborations with Cage—for example, Idyllic Song (1944) choreographed to Satie’s Socrate—were still thematically “married” to the music and linked to Cunningham’s erotic dance. When Cage and Cunningham worked to choreograph the remainder of Socrate in 1969 as Second Hand, Satie’s publisher refused performance rights for Cage’s arrangement. Instead, Cage composed a derivative work, Cheap Imitation, that preserved the meter, rhythms, and at times intervallic distance of Socrate while transposing the pitches by consulting the I Ching. The new score was not entirely generated by this procedure, however, as there are clear instances of Cage composing in musical cues for Cunningham’s dance. This relationship between dance and music is clearly different from other Cunningham works such as Split Sides (2003), produced after Cage’s death, in which the dance is entirely independent from the music. Although Cage and Cunningham remained for the most part silent about their sexuality and relationship, analyzing the formal structures of their professional collaborations in light of their personal relationship helps to reveal a fuller understanding of the couple’s life and work.

Works: John Cage (composer) and Merce Cunningham (choreographer): Credo in Us (448-51), Idyllic Song (456, 484-90), Second Hand (496-508); John Cage: Cheap Imitation (496-508); Merce Cunningham (choreographer): Septet (490-94), Split Sides (509-11)

Sources: Erik Satie: Socrate (456, 484-508), Trois morceaux en forme de poire (490-94); Sigur Rós: ba ba ti ki di do (509-11); Radiohead (Colin Greenwood, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brian, Philip Selway, Thom Yorke): Untitled (509-11)

Index Classifications: 1900s, 2000s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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