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Work Title
Cheap Imitation (solo piano)
Composed in 1969. Premiered in New York, January 8, 1970.
Ensemble Type
Work Length
Approximately 35 minutes
For solo piano.
This work was originally used as music for the choreographed piece by Merce Cunningham entitled Second Hand, with stage decors and costume design by Jasper Johns. It is a work for piano derived from a 1918 dramatic composition by Erik Satie entitled Socrate, itself originally conceived for voice and orchestra. Cage’s original transcription (of one movement) of Satie’s score served as “accompaniment” for Merce Cunningham’s solo dance entitled Idyllic Song, first performed in Richmond, Virginia, on Nov. 20, 1944. In 1968 Cage wished to complete his transcription (of the other two movements), but was forbidden by Satie’s publisher, Salabert. His inventive solution was to compose a new work that perfectly matched the phrase structure of Satie’s music (and thus of Cunningham’s dance, which was already well underway). His technique was simple: he took only the vocal line of Socrate (or occasionally the prominent orchestral melody) and systematically transposed it up or down and into different modes. In the 1st movement, every pitch is transposed separately, but in the 2nd and 3rd, the transpositions occur only at every half-bar. In short, the result is a music that has the same phrasing, rhythms, and even some of the general contours of Satie’s music, but which is otherwise completely distinct. This solved Cage’s copyright problem, and he playfully named his modified new work Cheap Imitation.
Peters Edition EP 6805