Life and work of John Cage
Since September 5, 2000, which is the 88th birthday of the avantgarde composer and artist John Cage, the slowest and longest concert that the world has ever heard has been playing: ORGAN2 / ASLSP (As Slow As Possible). That means this piece of music for organ will be performed for 639 years in the church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt.
How slow is "as slow as possible"?
The tempo indication „as slow as possible“ on the score of John Cages piece ORGAN 2 / ASLAP is asking that question. - In 1985 ASLSP was created as a version for piano, but in 1987 John Cage changed it for organ at the suggestion of the organist Gerd Zacher. The question of how to realise the opus leads to the conclusion that “as slow as possible” can be thought and played infiniteley – at least as long as the life of an organ lasts and also as long as peace and creativity in the following generations exist. But the question remained: How long should the piece be? The first organ performance was 29 minutes. A recent recording lasts 71 minutes. From that question a project was developed over the time that caused a worldwide sensation.
Why Halberstadt, and why 639 years?
Michael Praetorius, a composer of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, wrote that an organ with the first modern keyboard arrangement had been built in Halberstadt Cathedral (Germany) in 1361. This organ was the first one with a claviature of 12 notes and this claviature is used on our keyboard instruments today. So one can say that the cradle of modern music was in Halberstadt. Subtract 1361 from the millennial year 2000, and the result is 639.
In the year 2000, 639 years had passed since the “Phenomenal day of Halberstadt” (Harry Partch) the work Cage’s “as slow as possible” will be performed for 639 years. The place will be St. Burchardi, one of the oldest churches of the city. Built around 1050 by Burchard of Nahburg, this church functioned as a Cistercian convent for more than 600 years. In the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), St. Burchardi was partially destroyed, but rebuilt in 1711 and secularized by Jérome, the brother of Napoleon in 1810. For 190 years the church was used as a barn, hovel, distillery and a sty. - St. Buchardi was rediscovered and is now the venue of this extraordinary project, that can arouse the fascination of many people around the world.
In view of our fast moving age, this piece of music is a way of trying to slow down our hectic lives. The “discovery of slowness” and the planting of a “musical apple tree” can be understood as symbols of confidence in the future.
The length of this performance symbolises not only, and that was Cage's intention, the perception of music or a piece of music; It means also the perception of time, supposed standstill and transitoriness. As a generational project, this piece of music resists the fast reception; the simple solution which is preferred in our society.
The complexity of the reaction is probably responsible for the enormous media coverage which accured internationaly by the project. From The Times and Figaro to The New York Times, from BBC to RAI and CNN, the performance in Halberstadt is a constant theme in the media. At the last change of tone in 2006, there were over 50 international correspondents and camera crews in attendance. Each year 10.000 visitors have enjoyed the „Halberstadt John Cage Happening“. - In the meantime the performance ranks as one of the most outstanding cultural events in Germany.