John Cage’s Fourth Construction

John Cage’s Fourth Construction: An Imaginary Landscape

This topic is the subject of my Doctoral lecture recital and paper that was presented and defended in March of 2009 at the University of Texas at Austin.

On May 7th, 1942, a significant yet puzzling premiere of a John Cage work took place in San Francisco, California. This event occurred close to the culmination of Cage’s extensive work with his own percussion ensemble. On the evening of its premiere, this work was titled Fourth Construction. Soon after its debut, however, this composition was retitled Imaginary Landscape No. 2, which then joined two additional pieces within that series.  

Imaginary Landscape No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 represent Cage’s early experimentation with using electronic devices and sliding tones in musical compositions.

A similar counterpart to this group of works is Cage’s Construction series (the collection of pieces to which Imaginary Landscape No. 2 was originally assigned).

Composed during the same time period, First, Second,and Third Construction epitomize Cage’s experimentation with timbre, rhythm, and formal structure. The Constructions have become a central component of the percussion ensemble repertoire and many wish, including myself, that Cage had further explored this compositional format. 

Because of the Fourth Construction’s perceived “split personality” (Construction or Imaginary Landscape?), there are many unanswered questions surrounding academic and performance aspects of this work.

The following lecture was given via Zoom on April 16, 2020 for the University of Iowa percussion studio:

The following video demonstrates a performance of Imaginary Landscape No. 2 along with the score: