What’s your favorite Christmas tune?
How about 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence?
No kidding! Experimental composer John Cage’s 1952 classic 4’33” (a title usually pronounced four-thirty-three)—may actually top the pop charts this month in Great Britain. It’s part of a grassroots protest against British pop music promoter Simon Cowell—best known in the U.S. as a longtime bad-boy judge on “American Idol.”
The protest involves an unusual UK Christmas tradition. Apparently, for more than half a century, people across the UK have been voting on which single will hit No. 1 on Christmas Day. However, for several years in a row, the cagey Cowell influenced that decision by announcing a winner on his TV show in Britain just before the vote. Last year, the British public struck back by campaigning deliberately for a song to counter Cowell. This year, the protest movement is promoting Cage’s controversial 4’33”
Cage, who died in 1992, was quite serious about this composition, refering to it as his most important work in more than one interview. The piece has three movements in which the assembled musicians closely follow a score that tells them not to play their instruments. In effect, the ambient sounds become the audio experienced by listeners. That’s “Silent Night” on a whole new level!
Whether the latest British movement succeeds in hitting No. 1 is neither here nor there. The campaign already is sparking headlines around the world. The real issue, I think, is whether we need a moment of contemplation on Christmas Day—a silent respite.
What do you think?
Have you heard of the 4’33” campaign? What do you think of this idea?
Do you think the world needs more silence?
Want to experience it? We’ve found a YouTube video clip of the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing 4’33” that you can watch in the screen, below. The entire video clip runs more than 9 minutes with BBC commentary before and after Cage’s work.