1989Arts and PhilosophyMusic
John Cage photo

John Cage

  • U.S.A. / 1912-1992
  • Composer

A Composer Who Established a New Style of Contemporary Music by His New Concept of "Chance Music" and Non-Western Musical Thought

A great composer representing modern America. He made a strong impact on traditional Western music with his concept of "chance music," a non-Western form of musical philosophy and expression, which he established as one of the main styles of contemporary music. He has been a strong motive force in the most progressive group of modern composers as a pioneer of such revolutionary movements and has widely influenced not only musicians but also artists in other fields, such as dancers, poets, painters, sculptors, and photographers.
*This category then was Category of Creative Arts and Moral Sciences.


Brief Biography

Born in Los Angeles, California U.S.A.
Study modern music under Henry Cowell
Study under Arnold Schoenberg at U.C.L.A.
Study Zen Buddhism under Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki at Columbia University
Lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York
Professor of Poetics, Harvard University

Selected Awards and Honors

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award
First Prize at the Woodstock Film Festival
Carl Szucka Prize
Fellow of:
Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Major Works


First Construction (In Metal), Imaginary Landscape No. 1




The Seasons




Winter Music


Atlas Eclipticalis




A Composer Who Established a New Style of Contemporary Music by His New Concept of "Chance Music" and Non-Western Musical Thought

Mr. John Cage, a representative composer of the United States in the 20th century, is known the world over.

A rebel against Western music, Mr. Cage made his brilliant, comet-like debut in the early 1950s, and it is no exaggeration to say that his appearance suddenly transformed all European music into the past tense. Mr. Cage fundamentally denied the past concept which viewed music as merely a vehicle for human feeling or romanticism within strict boundaries of style and manner.

He was never disheartened by the conservative pressures of European civilization. Bold avant-garde art of the Cage kind has been steadily growing in the art of the 20th century. He is, as it were, a prophet who has foretold the spirit of the coming era.

His music by “Chance Operation” has since become one of the major styles in contemporary music. Recalling to people anew that music was originally accompanied by gestures and actions, his performances have had great influence upon the various styles of post-war composition.

His production of sound involving the planned occurrence of casual noise outside musical performances has widened the concept of musical sound as seen in his “Soundscape Theory.” For him, music in the restricted sense of forcing the audience to follow a composer’s thought process in composing a piece was meaningless. He also viewed as nonsense the idea that only classical instruments, such as the violin and the flute, can produce musical sound. For him sound had to be something freely existing and free in meaning, in other words, it had to be very natural sounding.

He studied with Schoenberg for a while to learn twelve-tone music, the influence of which is reflected in some of his works. After being exposed to the influence of Indian musical concepts and to Zen doctrine as taught by Daisetsu Suzuki, he gradually tended to merge into a non-Western spiritual world. In addition to Zen, he thoroughly studied classical Chinese thought, including the sacred texts of the Yi-King. These studies made him aware of another realism that denies the rational theory of pre-established harmony.

His creative activities and philosophy of art have truly constituted a revolution in culture. More than just a musical revolution, they have meant a revolution in conceptual thinking as well as in spirit. This is why he has been so widely influential in fields of culture and thought other than the purely musical.

In this way, Mr. John Cage has stood in the vanguard of change in the post-war Western musical world, and has continually demonstrated his leadership among the most avant-garde group of composers. In this sense, it is most natural for him to receive the Kyoto Prize as a representative musician of the 20th century.


Abstract of the Lecture

An Extended Autobiography

I once asked Aragon, the historian, how history was written. He said, “You have to invent it.” When I am asked now to tell of critical incidents, persons and events which have influenced my life and work, the true answer is all of the incidents were critical, all of the people influenced me, everything that happened and that is still happening influences me.

My commemorative lecture is an autobiographical statement which presents some of these incidents, persons and events and indicates generally, and sometimes specifically, how they have affected my work.

The following paragraph occurs toward the end.

We are living in a period in which many people have changed their minds about what the use of music is or could be for them. Something that doesn’t speak or talk like a human being, that doesn’t know it’s definition in the dictionary nor its theory in the schools, that expresses itself simply by the fact of its vibrations. People paying attention to vibratory activity, not in relation to a fixed ideal performance, but each time attentively to how it happens to be this time, not necessarily two times the same. A music that transports the listener to the moment where he is.

This represents my present point of view.

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John Cage in Kyoto

November 12, 1989
Kyoto International Conference Center
Bin Ebisawa Member, Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; President, Kunitachi College of Music, Musicology


Greetings Kazuo Inamori
President, The Inamri Foundation
Opening Remarks Toru Yano
Chairman, Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences;
Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University
Lecture John Cage
Laureate in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences
"Composition in Retrospect"
Commemorative Performance "Ryoan-ji" percussion: Yasunori Yamaguchi
hichiriki: Kanehiko Toji, Yumiko Mizoiri, Satoru Yaotani
Lecture Akimichi Takeda
Associate Professor, Musashino University of Music, Musicology
"John Cage, who uncaged music"
Symposium "The Significance of Cage – from various perspectives"
Chairperson Koji Sano, Professor, Tohogakuen School of Music, Musicology
Masashi Miura, Literary Critic
Panelists Kuniharu Akiyama, Professor, Tama Art University, Music critic
Arata Isozaki Member, Kyoto Prize Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; Professor, The University of the Air, Composer
Shin Nakagawa, Member, Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; Assistant Professor, Kyoto City University of Arts, Musicology
Tributes Toshiro Mayuzumi, Composer
Aki Takahashi, Pianist
Performance 1. Music for six fl.: Yukihiko Nishizaka
pno.: Aki Takahashi, Toshi Ichiyanagi
perc.: Atsushi Sugawara, Takafumi Fujimoto, Maki Suzuki
2. "Two" for fl. and pno. fl.: Yukihiko Nishizawa
Pno.: Aki Takahashi
Tributes Toshi Ichiyanagi, Composer
Closing Remarks