Streams

Audio dada: A precursor to John Cage's 4'33", 20 years earlier

Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 04:33 AM

As New Sounds celebrates composer John Cage's 100th birthday, we at the WNYC archives add our own, irreverent archival item to the celebration: a WMCA News Parade program with an eerie premonition of John Cage's famous "silent" piece, 4'33".

In this amusing episode, opera singer Maria Jeritza is sued by a young, loopy Viennese composer over an opera… without notes or words. Choice quotes:

COMPOSER: Wait, I open the piano and I play you the main theme from my opera.

JERITZA: Fine [pause]. Well, I don’t hear anything!

COMPOSER: Of course not, Madame! You are not supposed to hear anything!

[. . .]

JERITZA: Aren’t there any notes to your music?

COMPOSER: Of course not Madame!. . . There are no notes! There is not even any music! . . . See how wonderful this is: Everyone will be surprised: The singers, the audience, and so am I. Think of the idea, Madame: how different! Madame, it’s—it’s—colossal!

Not much is known about The News Parade, a weekly program in the newsreel style popular at the time, in which news items were re-created using actors (since portable recording was still in its infancy). But is the original event a true story? It is hard to tell. Later in the broadcast, the young composer is identified as Max [von] Oberleithner (1868-1935), which is likely incorrect since Oberleithner had a good relationship with Dame Jeritza, having dedicated  his breakthrough piece, Aphrodite, to her; besides, in 1932 Oberleithner was hardly a young composer. But the story may not be entirely apocryphal, since Jeritza is known to have been “frequently in an Austrian court suing an author or a publishing company.” (1)

While this broadcast is hardly the first reference to a musical silent piece (French humorist Alphones Alaïs' 1897 Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (2) and Erwin Schulhoff's 1919 In Futurum handily predate it), it is significant in that John Cage would have been 20 when this was broadcast. Cage quotes an anechoic chamber at Harvard University as the inspiration for his famous piece, but could he have heard this 1932 broadcast and been at least subliminally influenced? We will probably never know.

Do you have information about The News Parade? We would love to hear it.

 

 

(1) Burstyn, Joan N., ed. Past and Promise: Lives of NJ Women, p.330. (Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse University Press, 1997)

(2) It is also interesting to note how some breakthrough trends in Western classical music often appear as "musical jokes" earlier in history.

Guests:

Maria Jeritza

Tags:

More in:

News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.

Sponsored

About NYPR Archives & Preservation

Mission Statement: The New York Public Radio Archives supports the mission and goals of WNYC and WQXR by honoring the broadcast heritage of the radio stations and preserving their organizational and programming legacy for future generations of public radio listeners. The Archives will collect, organize, document, showcase and make available for production all original work generated by and produced in association with WNYC and WQXR Radio.

The NYPR Archives serves the stations staff and producers by providing them with digital copies of our broadcast material spanning WNYC and WQXR's respective 89 and 77 year histories.  We also catalog, preserve and digitize, provide reference services, store, and acquire WNYC and WQXR broadcast material (originals and copies) missing from the collection. This repatriation effort has been aided by dozens of former WNYC and WQXR staff as well as a number of key institutions. Additionally, our collecting over the last ten years goes beyond sound and includes photos, publicity materials, program guides, microphones, coffee mugs, buttons and other ephemera. We've left no stone unturned in our pursuit of these artifacts. The History Notes is a showcase for many of these non-broadcast items in our collection. 

In fact, if you’ve got that vintage WNYC or WQXR knick-knack, gee-gaw, or maybe a photo of someone in front of our mic, an old program guide or vintage piece of remote equipment and would like to donate it to us, or provide a copy of the item to us, write to Andy Lanset at alanset@nypublicradio.org.   

The Archives and Preservation series was created to bring together the leading NYPR Archives related, created, or sourced content material at WNYC.org.

Feeds

Supported by