Eliza Garth Performs John Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes”


Pianist Eliza Garth best described American composer and artist John Cage as “a courageous thinker outside the box.” After seeing the piano Garth was to play Cage’s work on filled with pencil eraser toppers, screws, and bolts attached to the strings, anyone could agree.

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, the late Cage’s 100th birthday, Garth performed Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes” for a crowd of community members in St. Mary’s Hall. Cage was most famous for composing and playing pieces on a prepared piano, with strange objects like those mentioned above often incorporated. Though Cage displayed a very unorthodox style of piano playing, the sounds from the piece gave a fresh and interesting face to what music composing can be.

Though Garth showed true enthusiasm while playing and for Cage as a composer, the progression of the piece was confusing to follow.

Where one would expect a phrase to go on, it would just end in the middle of a “musical idea.” This leaves a somewhat uncomfortable feeling with the audience as if the phrase is incomplete and disjoined. The dynamics ranged from very quiet and calm to almost violent. In fact, the only elements of the performance that seemed similar to a traditional piano concert were that it was divided into movements and was performed in a concert hall.

But even though the piece varied in style and challenged the audience at times, the non-traditional idea of the performance was pleasing. In other words, if the piano had not been within view, an audience member would definitely guess an entire band complete with a piano, drum set, and xylophone would have been performing. The sounds emitted from the piano ranged from those sounding like a music box, a cymbal, and an organ to name a few.

Parts of the composition also had a creepy and almost haunted feel with emphasis on the percussive element, while others featured the piano sound more prominently and the tone assumed that of a lullaby.

Overall, it was a great experience to be exposed to such a different form of musical expression because it is so contrary to the norm. People assume things like music be the way it traditionally is simply because they have not heard what else is possible. Most classical music is predictable and makes sense musically (there is a fast movement, a slow movement and so on) and the music seems to flow.

But Cage begs the question: Well what if we take out key phrases and replace them with percussive sounds or even silence? How does this make you feel? Being an observer was a unique experience as Cage really opens up one’s mind to the question of how we define “music.”

Audience members also praised Garth’s rendition of Cage’s work. Digital Media Specialist Andrew Kiper, who has heard Cage perform before, called himself a “big fan” of the performance. “[The performance] was very intense, perhaps most intense because quiets were most quiet.”

Senior Madailein Harrigan, who had also previously heard Cage perform, liked the unique style of the piece. Harrigan noted that she was particularly interested in the performance because she had also seen one of Cage’s art exhibits.