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John Cage

I may be wrong, because I'm not a good historian, but when I approached the idea of meeting Stefan or becoming aware of him for the first time, it seems to me that it was through David Tudor. And so I think in his generosity of introducing me to the friends he valued the most, he would certainly have brought me to Stefan. And I went several times to 110th Street, out where Stefan had an apartment with Irma Rademacher. And it was always filled with students who were absolutely devoted to him, so that one had the feeling, being there, that one was at the true center of New York. And it was almost an unknown center of New York. And that was what gave a very special strength to one's feeling about Stefan, that it was in a sense a privilege to be aware of him, since it was like being privy to an important secret.

In each person who was near Stefan, all those students, there was no divided feeling. There was no question of both liking and disliking him. One's feeling was entirely for him, it was unquestioning. And I've always thought that that way of having a friend or a teacher was better than the sometimes popular idea of quarreling with the teacher, or criticizing. Some schools of education think that you shouldn't quarrel with the teacher. I've always thought that you should take everything the teacher says as true. As long as you believe in the teacher, you shouldn't question anything he says. That's the way I was with Schoenberg, or Suzuki.

In a strange way he had the same kind of strength that Satie had for the people surrounding him. And you know that marvelous statement of Satie, that it is necessary to be uncompromising right up to the end. And that's typical Stefan. And you had that feeling with [Aaron] Copland or with [Virgil] Thomson, anyone, you wouldn't have lifted an eyebrow if there had been some kind of compromise. It would have seemed perfectly natural even with Stravinsky. But not with Stefan! And that was what was so important.

He must have been a very excellent teacher. And I think I would say that because there was variety and liveliness in the minds of the students. Whereas if you come into contact with the effects of Hindemith's teaching, you see nothing but a mind laid low.

John Cage (1912-1992) was born in Los Angeles. He moved to New York in 1933 to study composition and returned to California a year later to study with Schoenberg at U.C.L.A. At Seattle he met Merce Cunningham, with whom he began a lengthy collaboration as composer and performer for his dance company. He returned to New York in 1942, where he became a central figure in the new music community. Cage became a director of the Stefan Wolpe Society when it was founded in 1981 and generously supported its activities. Interview: AC, Toronto, 26 November 1984.


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