6 - “Page 52” of Cornelius Cardew

The Art


The Music

excerpt (page 52) from “Treatise” by Cornelius Cardew  
(1967), Buffalo, New York, Gallery Upstairs Press. 
(196 page score in total)

English experimental composer Cornelius Cardew (1936 – 1981) is regarded to be one of the most innovative and musicians of his generation who is “widely acknowledged as a pioneer of indeterminacy, graphic notation, free improvisation and performer involvement. As well as extending the boundaries of music in unprecedented directions, he enquired deeply into its social relevance and meaning. His passionate and untiring quest for wider social significance led him eventually to become a political activist” (http://www.pytheasmusic.org/cardew.html).

This work of Cardew's was inspired by Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” (1918) and “Philosphical Investigations” (1945). To that end, Cardew was interested in creating a score that would be interpreted by the performing musicians, who would develop their own systems to consistently interpret the symbols in the score. How fun is that?!  

 Cornelius Cardew writes...

“Treatise is a long continuous drawing – in form rather similar to a novel. … composed according to musical principles …  However, indications of sounds, noises, and musical relationships do not figure in the score, which is purely graphic… Each player interprets the score according to his own acumen and sensibility”. 
*Cardew, C. 1971: p. xii; Treatise handbook, including Bun no. 2 and Volo solo. London, Edition Peters.  

And .. To the musicians, Cardew's instruction is, “Interpreter! Remember that no meaning is yet attached to the symbols. They are however to be interpreted in the context of their role in the whole”. (IBID, p.iii) 

The Music 

I recently came across this work through Ian Parsons, a radio presenter for PBS Melbourne What a goldmine of information!  Thank-you Ian.  It’s been fascinating learning about Cardew’s work and influences, with specific focus on his 196 page graphic score “Treatise”.  

I studied the whole score and looked for repeating graphic motifs so I could get a sense of the whole – part – whole regarding the page 52. (I’d selected this page for obvious reasons). I decided not to listen to anybody else’s versions of this work until I’d improvised my own recording of “page 52”.