John Cage: Early Piano Music

Herbert Henck

Featured Artists Recorded

December 2002, Festeburgkirche Frankfurt

Original Release Date


  • The Seasons
    (John Cage)
  • 1Prelude I02:01
  • 2Winter01:27
  • 3Prelude II00:48
  • 4Spring02:26
  • 5Prelude III01:44
  • 6Summer03:36
  • 7Prelude IV00:53
  • 8Fall02:30
  • 9Finale (Prelude I)01:08
  • Metamorphosis
    (John Cage)
  • 10I02:06
  • 11II02:40
  • 12III07:15
  • 13IV01:16
  • 14V02:58
  • 15In a landscape (1948)
    (John Cage)
  • 16Ophelia (1946)
    (John Cage)
  • Two Pieces for Piano
    (John Cage)
  • 17I. Slowly02:19
  • 18II. Quite fast01:21
  • 19Quest (1935)
    (John Cage)
  • Two Pieces for Piano
    (John Cage)
  • 20I05:42
  • 21II05:39
This CD brings together the wonderful piano pieces that Cage wrote in the 1930s and 1940s, when he was feeling his way towards the anarchic “chance music” that made him notorious. The earliest ones are severe and angular, sounding like proper modern music; the later ones have an innocent air. Henck, though, is adept at playing both styles. … The drifting gentleness of ‘In a Landscape’ is exactly caught, while the naïve pattern-making of ‘The Seasons’ is beautifully controlled. It is rare to find a contemporary CD that gives such pure enjoyment.
Ivan Hewett, The Times
A calmer synthesis comes with John Cage: Early Piano Music, whose mostly meditative “The Seasons” was stimulated by the works of a Sri Lankan art historian. Cage was also much influenced by Erik Satie and the effect of his work relies, as does Satie’s, on patience, precision timing and a consistently sensitive touch. Pianist Herbert Henck delivers handsomely on all three counts, especially for the 13-minute piece “In a Landscape”, surely among Cage’s most appealing early essays.
Rob Cowan, The Independent
Der Pianist Herbert Henck … hat eine Platte aufgenommen, die den jungen Cage der Dreißiger- und Vierzigerjahre zeigt: beim unorthodoxen Experimentieren mit Reihentechniken, mit am Hinduismus angelehnten Inhalten, mit neuen Formen der Ballettmusik, mit der scheinbaren Einfachheit Saties – all das übrigens noch auf konventionell gespieltem, unpräpariertem Klavier. In seinen feinfühligen Interpretationen gelingt es Henck, Cage als Suchenden darzustellen – aber als einen, der sich selbst, seiner inneren Ruhe und deren musikalischem Ausdruck schon ganz dicht auf der Spur ist.
Carsten Fastner, Falter
Nach der exzellenten Einspielung von John Cages charismatischem Meisterstück für das „prepared piano“, der „Sonatas and Interludes“, widmet sich Herbert Henck mit vergleichbar präziser und poetischer Formulierung nun Cages frühen Stücken für konventionell gespieltes Klavier. ... Einfach schön, und hier ganz besonders „The Seasons“ mit ihren impressionistischen Farbvaleurs, die als Klavierfassung eigentlich noch mehr verzaubern als die ursprüngliche Orchesterversion. ... Fast wie in Zeitlupe, kommt das versponnene „In a Landscape“ daher, eine modale Hommage an Satie, die vielleicht noch nie so traumverhangen und bedeutungsschwanger gespielt wurde. In den abschließenden „Two Pieces for Piano“ von 1946 ... erweist sich Henck einmal mehr als intellektueller Feinmotoriker mit Herz.
Dirk Wieschollek, Fono Forum
In seiner frühen Schaffensphase, den 30er und 40er Jahren, orientierte sich John Cage zwar noch am Modell der Zwölftontechnik, beschritt aber bereits eindeutig neue Wege. Seine frühe Klaviermusik basiert klanglich noch auf dem reinen, unpräparierten Flügel. ... Herbert Henck entwickelt in dieser Aufnahme eine beispielhaft präzise, aber zugleich auch poetisch fantasievolle Cage-Interpretation.
Oliver Ford, Stereo
This is beautiful music, played with great sensitivity.

John Cage’s name is so closely identified with experimental, dissonant and radical music making, with the idea that anything – including “silence” itself – can be music, that we tend to forget how uniquely, lyrical and even beautiful his early compositions are. Cage’s early piano music is the subject of German pianist Herbert Henck’s new album.

Two years ago, ECM issued Henck’s account of Cage’s “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano”, which many critics felt was a definitive reading of this important work, offering new insights by combining it with Henck’s spontaneous improvisations, also for prepared piano. “Delightfully subtle, finely-nuanced, honed to precision, lucidly intelligent” – International Record Review; “Herbert Henck invests this music with every ounce of his meticulous musicianship and technical finish, remaining fully attuned to Cage’s poetic impulses” – BBC Music Magazine;

Now Henck goes back to the pieces that preceded and set the scene for the “Sonatas and Interludes”. These include “The Seasons”, previously heard on ECM in the orchestral version as played by the American Composers Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies and “In A Landscape”, one of the first Cage’s “oriental meditations” which has also been persuasively played by Alexei Lubimov on “Der Bote”.

Cage’s early piano pieces are amongst the most “accessible” of 20th century compositions, at times they seem closer to Satie than to the dissonant Cage of the later years.

“Early Piano Music” flashes out a small but important body of Cage recordings on ECM. But it also does more than this.

Each of Henck’s albums is a kind of composer portrait, offering acute insight into the personality and musical thought of the music’s authors. And the album can be seen as the latest instalment in a series of remarkable recordings casting new light on some of the most independent musical voices of the twentieth century. It is a series that has already included Federico Mompou, Alexandr Mosolov, George Antheil Conlon Nancarrow and Jean Barraqué.

Each of these recordings is inspiring in the way it addresses new solutions to musical problems, opening up new possibilities for composition. In his typically illuminating liner notes for this Cage disc, Herbert Henck quotes the motto of this “enfant terrible” of American music: “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”

Herbert Henck, an exceptionally eloquent musical commentator, will be pleased to do interviews to help promote this disc. Consult Anselm Cybinski in the ECM office for more details.
The CD cover features a very fine portrait of Cage by Roberto Masotti, its alert friendliness an accurate indication of the music herein.