Sounds of Silence

John Cage may be the first important artist whose work one wants neither to hear nor see

There was always the whiff of the charlatan about John Cage. The puckish composer, audacious theoretician, stylish writer, subtle graphic artist, macrobiotic guru and fearless mushroom hunter was the impish personification of the 20th century avant-garde. Arch, soft-spoken and witty, Cage was passionately adored by his acolytes right up to his death at age 79 in 1992, and continues to be regarded by some as a kind of contemporary Beethoven, his influence ranging as far afield as Germany and Japan (where he is a demigod). And yet: Was there ever a composer of whom it can be said that his most...

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