Why celebrate John Cage's centenial in Paris?


Cage often mentioned the role Duchamp played on his development as an artist, and indeed the role played by the French dada master is to be seen in many of his works as well as in his aesthetic theory in general. In a parallel reverse movement to Duchamp who left Paris for New York in 1914 and had an essential impact on avant-garde American artists, John Cage seems to have exercised, through his numerous stays in France from the 1930s, a similar, albeit much less known role on French artists. It is this aspect of John Cage’s impact on the French scene which we would like to explore through a four-day celebration of John Cage’s centennial.


From his first trip to Europe in 1930, Cage opened himself to European art and thought and one might consider that this first trip was the start of a lifelong transatlantic career where Cage both influenced and was influenced by the French scene.

France opened Cage to modernism through the transatlantic figure of Gertrude Stein, but also through his early encounter with the works of Antonin Artaud and it is here that, once he had become a major artist, he chose to perform some of his major works.

His trip to France in 1949 when he received a grant from the Guggenheim foundation and the National Institute of Arts and Letters can be considered as the moment when Cage started a lifelong dialogue with France. He met Pierre Boulez, Pierre Schaeffer and composed Sonatas and Interludes for Olivier Messiaen’s composition course at the Conservatoire de Paris.

The 1950s marked the beginning of frequent trips to Europe and France, particularly through his collaboration with the Cunningham Dance Company and it is in France that many of his compositions were first premiered (Song Books was premiered in France in 1969). This transatlantic dialogue never ceased, and one might argue that France, through its many invitations and festivals (such as Ircam or the Festival d’Automne) helped to shape Cage’s career – France has indeed played a major role in shaping Cage’s career while he influenced French audiences, artists as well as public cultural practices in a major way that has not yet been fully explored.


            Some other places have played a central role in his career, such as Black Mountain College or Japan, but it is important to explore the role played by France in the construction of his career. This becomes particularly relevant when one thinks about the importance Duchamp had on Cage’s career and calls for an exploration on the possibility of looking at Cage in France as an echo of Duchamp’s influence on the United States.

Looking back, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday, on Cage’s role in France, we hope to see how the transatlantic dialogue initiated by Duchamp at the beginning of the twentieth century was continued and fostered by Cage in the second half of the century. In 1968, Cage wrote and performed with Duchamp a piece called Reunion: it is this sense of a reunion, that we wish to explore and celebrate in this event.


            In order to account for Cage’s central role in the shaping of French experimental art and thought, we are organizing a multi-faceted event where scholars as well as performers will present the influence Cage has had on their work.