John Cage’s Song Books with Lor

About the Song Books

Commissioned in 1970 by Cathy Berberian and Simone Rist, the Song Books are a collection of 90 Solos for Voices and the result of one of the most intensely creative periods during Cage’s life, producing an incredibly diverse 317 pages of manuscript.

The diversity of the Song Books can be attributed to the somewhat unusual methods Cage used to help guide the construction of the ninety solos; he would ask very specific questions and receive the answers by tossing coins and consulting the I ching (Chinese oracle book) to determine how many songs would appear in each book (56 and 34), which method of composition would be used to create each song and how each of them should be performed (song, song with electronics, theatre, or theatre with electronics). The result of this approach was that the solos of the Song Books encompass over fifty different methods of composition. The solos themselves were either referred to as relevant or irrelevant to the overall theme of the Song Books, which related to a phrase taken from Cage’s diary: “We connect Satie with Thoreau”, Satie being the French composer Erik Satie and Henry David Thoreau, a 19th century American writer, naturalist and anarchist, both of which had significant influence on Cage’s work. If the I ching determined a solo was relevant then it would include a reference to either Satie or Thoreau or both, irrelevant solos did not.

The theatrical aspects of the Song Books are a great departure from Cage’s usual compositional style and range from the ordinary to inexplicable. However, he still manages to add his own blend of Cagean surrealism with performers instructed to wear animal heads and weave throughout the audience and performance space during the songs.

James Pritchett said “It is a piece that is impossible to characterise in any brief description – a piece which juxtaposes the old and the new, determinacy and indeterminacy”. 

Cage’s description “To consider the Song Books as a work of art is nearly impossible. Who would dare? It resembles a brothel, doesn’t it?

On Wednesday 13 March three artists renowned for their affinity with Cage’s music – Loré Lixenberg, Robert Worby and Gregory Rose – come together to bring the extraordinary Song Books to life in the RNCM Concert Hall. 

The Performers

Loré Lixenberg

Born in the UK Loré Lixenberg is a mezzo-soprano, director and composer, with an extensive concert repertoire and experience of working in both opera and music-theatre. She is renowned for her extraordinary vocal agility and range, often using extended voice techniques, which lends itself perfectly to the heterogeneity and theatrical nature of the Song Books. Loré has performed as a soloist with many distinguished orchestras and ensembles, including the Hallé orchestra and appeared in many productions with the ground-breaking theatre company Complicite (formerly Théâtre de Complicité).   

Robert Worby

Based in London, Robert Worby is a composer, sound artist and broadcaster. He started work as a composer and sound artist in the mid-1970s, when he collaborated with experimental film makers and performance artists and later played guitar and tapes in a post-punk band called The Distributors. In 1989 his pop career was put on hold when he was invited to work with John Cage at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. In the mid-90s Robert worked on several films, concert music and the opera Facing Goya. At this time Robert also began broadcasting on BBC Radio 3 presenting a five part series entitled Cacophony Now!, which explored how dissonance and noise crossover into contemporary music and is now a regular presenter of Hear and Now. Robert has also written an electronic score for the German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which is being shown at the RNCM on Monday 25 March 2013 with a new live soundtrack by Martyn Jacques (Tiger Lillies).

Gregory Rose

Gregory Rose is an experienced conductor, composer, arranger and music director, who has been at the forefront of contemporary music for the last 40 years. He studied violin, piano and singing under Hanns Jelinek (Vienna Academy) and Egon Wellesz (Oxford University), both former students of the father of serialism, Arnold Schoenberg. At the age of 15, Gregory heard a recording of Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge and was overwhelmed and inspired to explore the interesting and challenging world of contemporary composers, including such luminaries as Ligeti, Berio, Xenakis and Cage. In 1982 he was director of Cage at 70, featuring Cage himself, and two years later Reich at 50, both part of the Almeida Festival in London and in 2012 recorded and produced the John Cage Song Books on the Sub Rosa record label.


Book for the show here


28 February 2013