John Cage: In A Landscape


Composed in 1948, John Cage’s minimalist solo piano work In A Landscape was composed with the idea that the purpose of the music was “to sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences.” The work was composed to accompany a dance by Merce Cunningham, subsequently to be danced by Louise Lipold. It was written during a time where Cage was incredibly interested in the music of Erik Satie, in particular his ‘furniture music’ (‘musique d’ameublement’) – music for the listener to “take no notice of, to behave as if it did not exist.” 

Interestingly, Cage and Cunningham worked in isolation from one another when composing and choreographing this work. This was so that the only thing common between music and dance was time. Cage’s revert back to basic harmonies and very slow progressions ended up seeming like a response to other maximalist works happening in the USA. In A Landscape reflects Cage’s delicate writing, which he builds a sense of peace and serenity upon.

The Music

Composed for solo piano or harp, Cage instructs on the score for the performer to sustain both the damper and sustain pedals together for the entire duration of the piece. He then instructs them to only be released at the very last bar of the piece. By doing this the performer is able to capture and sustain the harmonic of the instrument.

Cage sets up a strict symmetrical structure that the music follows at a slow pace. The mesmerising harmonics resonate throughout creating an ethereal atmosphere, which cleverly invited the audience to relax and reflect.

There is an absence of dynamics throughout which, paired with cyclical repetition of notes, creates a very still atmosphere. It’s been said that In A Landscape is one of the purest forms of minimalist music due to its single divine theme and stillness. It is the ideal piece of music to practise some personal mindfulness. 


Final Thoughts

Composed as an obvious homage to the music of Erik Satie, John Cage’s In A Landscape is a cycle of patterns that open doors into reflection, peacefulness and sonority. The constant moving harmonics keep you intrigued, whilst still being able to fully immerse yourself in this relaxing journey. 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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1 Comment

Ivan · 10th November 2020 at 12:22 am

‘In a Landscape’ is one of my favourite compositions. There’s something similar not only to Satie but also to Brahms’ piano works (especially Op. 119 No.1 Adagio)

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