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The Music of Cage

To the Editors:

Christopher Benfey, in his review of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957 [NYR, May 26], makes several statements about John Cage that must be called into question. The first is due either to imprecision in Benfey’s own writing or to his misinterpretation of a sentence in the book he is reviewing. He writes, “In 1953, Cunningham founded his dance company at the college and the previous year Cage performed his epochal 4′ 33″….” 1952 did indeed see the first performance of 4′ 33″ but at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York, not at Black Mountain. Furthermore, it was performed by David Tudor, not Cage. Benfey goes on to state that he has recently seen a playbill from an August 1952 production of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon at a theater not far from Black Mountain College that credits Cunningham with the choreography (this is true) and Cage with the music (this is obviously impossible). Finally, anyone with the slightest knowledge of John Cage’s writings knows that his first book is Silence, not, as Benfey would have it, Silences.

James Klosty
Millbrook, New York

Christopher Benfey replies:

I am grateful to Mr. Klosty for his vigilance. So it was Tudor, not Cage, who sat silently at the opened piano. The silence of Cage’s title was singular, not plural. But Mr. Klosty is wrong about the playbill, which does indeed credit Cage with “Music,” meaning, presumably, musical direction.

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