David Tudor

Last updated

David Tudor
David Tudor publicity.jpg
Tudor circa 1950
Background information
Born(1926-01-20)January 20, 1926
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedAugust 13, 1996(1996-08-13) (aged 70)
Tomkins Cove, New York, U.S.
Occupation(s)musician, composer
Instruments Piano, Electronics, Bandoneon
Associated acts John Cage, Merce Cunningham

David Eugene Tudor (January 20, 1926 – August 13, 1996) was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.


Life and career

Tudor was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied piano with Irma Wolpe and composition with Stefan Wolpe and became known as one of the leading performers of avant garde piano music. He gave the first American performance of the Piano Sonata No. 2 by Pierre Boulez in 1950, and a European tour in 1954 greatly enhanced his reputation. Karlheinz Stockhausen dedicated his Klavierstück VI (1955) to Tudor. Tudor also gave early performances of works by Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff and La Monte Young.

The composer with whom Tudor is particularly associated is John Cage; he gave the premiere of Cage's Music of Changes , Concert For Piano and Orchestra and the notorious 4' 33". Cage said that many of his pieces were written either specifically for Tudor to perform or with him in mind, once stating "what you had to do was to make a situation that would interest him. That was the role he played.” [1] The two worked closely together on many of Cage's pieces, both works for piano and electronic pieces, including for the Smithsonian Folkways album: Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and Electronic Music (1959). Tudor also performs on several recordings of Cage's music, including the Mainstream record of Cartridge Music, the recording on Columbia Records of Variations II, and the two Everest records of Variations IV. Tudor selected the works to be performed for the 25th Anniversary Retrospective Concert of the music of John Cage (May 16, 1958), and performed in the premiere of the Concert For Piano and Orchestra given as the closing work for that concert. Moreover, Tudor received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts John Cage Award (1992). [2]

After a stint teaching at Darmstadt from 1956 to 1961, Tudor began to wind up his activities as a pianist to concentrate on composing. He wrote mostly electronic works, many commissioned by Cage's partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham. His homemade musical circuits are considered landmarks in live electronic music and electrical instrument building as a form of composition. One piece, Reunion (1968), written jointly with Lowell Cross features a chess game, where each move triggers a lighting effect or projection. At the premiere, the game was played between John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. Reunion is erroneously attributed to Cage in James Pritchett's book The Music Of John Cage. Rain Forest is a sound installation created from constructed sculpture and everyday objects such as a metal barrel, a vintage computer disk, and plastic tubing which served as a musical accompaniment. (David Tudor and Composers Inside Electronics Inc.: Rain forest V (variation 1))

In 1969, Tudor set up India's first electronic music studio at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. [3]

Upon Cage's death in 1992, Tudor took over as music director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Among many works created for the company, Tudor composed Soundings: Ocean Diary (1994), the electronic component of Ocean, which was conceived by John Cage and Merce Cunningham, with choreography by Merce Cunningham, orchestral music by Andrew Culver and design by Marsha Skinner.

Tudor died in Tomkins Cove, New York at the age of 70. [4]

Piano Realisations

From 1951 until the late 1960s, Tudor (mainly as pianist) regularly performed the indeterminate work of John Cage. Throughout this time, “all of the music [Cage] composed”, John Holzaepfel contends, “was written with one person in mind”, and this person was Tudor. [5] The culmination of this period were works that required a significant imprint of Tudor in performance. Winter Music (1957), for example, comprises a score of twenty pages, that each contain from one to 61 cluster-chords per page, with the performer deciding which of these to play. [6] In his realisations of these scores, Tudor “pin[ned] them down like butterflies”, making the indeterminate determined, such that each performance of these works was consistent with the last. He chose to ‘fix’ his interpretation, such that he never improvised from the score, and rather each performance of Winter Music by Tudor was consistent across time. [7] As Martin Iddon explains: “Tudor’s practice was, broadly, to create a single realisation and then to use that version of the piece in all subsequent recordings”. [6]

Despite the significant role Tudor had in the creative act, “during his years as a pianist, Tudor never considered himself as a composer, or even a co-composer, of the music he played”. [5]

However, Ben Piekut argues differently, drawing from the work of Bruno Latour. These fixed realisations are examples of 'distributed authorship' where “the conception, meaning and sound-world of a given composition is shared across multiple subjectivities”. [8] The conception and meaning of the work for Cage is always created with Tudor in mind, and thus shared across the subjectivities of these two actors. Similarly, the output ‘sound-world’ is shared in that Tudor's function in realising the score is decision making based on Cage's stimuli (score), and Cage's stimuli does not present a coherent sound-world on its own. Piekut goes on to align this creative-distribution with Cage's Buddhist anti-ego worldview.

See also

Related Research Articles

John Cage American avant-garde composer

John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, artist, and philosopher. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

Henry Cowell American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario

Henry Dixon Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, impresario and the husband of Sidney Robertson Cowell.

Morton Feldman American composer (1926–1987)

Morton Feldman was an American composer.

Christian Wolff (composer) American composer of experimental classical music

Christian G. Wolff is an American composer of experimental classical music.

Merce Cunningham

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of American modern dance for more than 50 years. He was notable for frequent collaboration with artists of other disciplines, including musicians John Cage, David Tudor, Brian Eno, and graphic artists Robert Rauschenberg, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Jasper Johns; and fashion designer Rei Kawakubo. Works that he produced with these artists had a profound impact on avant-garde art beyond the world of dance.

4′33″ is a three-movement composition by American experimental composer John Cage (1912–1992). It was composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments, and the score instructs performers not to play their instruments during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, although it is commonly perceived as "four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence". The title of the piece refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 4′33″ being the total length of the first public performance.

Gordon Mumma is an American composer. He is known most for his work with electronics, many devices of which he builds himself, and for his performances on horn.

Earle Brown American composer

Earle Brown was an American composer who established his own formal and notational systems. Brown was the creator of "open form," a style of musical construction that has influenced many composers since—notably the downtown New York scene of the 1980s and generations of younger composers.

String piano

String piano is a term coined by American composer-theorist Henry Cowell (1897–1965) to collectively describe those pianistic extended techniques in which sound is produced by direct manipulation of the strings, instead of or in addition to striking the piano's keys. Pioneered by Cowell in the 1920s, such techniques are now often called upon in the works of avant-garde classical music composers.

Andrew Culver (composer) American composer

Andrew Culver is a Canadian-American composer and software entrepreneur. Culver's works have included chamber and orchestral music, electronic and computer music, sound sculpture and music sculpture, film, lighting, text pieces, and installations. He performs concerts with sound sources of his own invention that are based on the tensegrity structural principle as elaborated by Buckminster Fuller, a lifelong influence.

Takehisa Kosugi was a Japanese composer, violinist and artist associated with the Fluxus movement.

Stephen Montague American musician (born 1943)

Stephen Rowley Montague is an American composer, pianist and conductor who grew up in Idaho, New Mexico, West Virginia and Florida.

Pierre Boulez composed three piano sonatas: the First Piano Sonata in 1946, the Second Piano Sonata in 1947-48, and the Third Piano Sonata in 1955–57 with further elaborations up to at least 1963, though only two of its movements have been published.

Credo in Us is a musical composition by the American experimental music composer, writer and visual artist John Cage. It was written in July 1942 and revised in October of that year. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, this piece avoided the populist tendencies of fellow American composers at the time, while the piece's title is thought to be a call to collective unity.

Stephen Whittington is an Australian composer, pianist, teacher and writer of music.

Indeterminacy is a composing approach in which some aspects of a musical work are left open to chance or to the interpreter's free choice. John Cage, a pioneer of indeterminacy, defined it as "the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways".

Experimental music is a general label for any music that pushes existing boundaries and genre definitions. Experimental compositional practice is defined broadly by exploratory sensibilities radically opposed to, and questioning of, institutionalized compositional, performing, and aesthetic conventions in music. Elements of experimental music include indeterminate music, in which the composer introduces the elements of chance or unpredictability with regard to either the composition or its performance. Artists may also approach a hybrid of disparate styles or incorporate unorthodox and unique elements.

American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992) started composing pieces for solo prepared piano around 1938–40. The majority of early works for this instrument were created to accompany dances by Cage's various collaborators, most frequently Merce Cunningham. In response to frequent criticisms of prepared piano, Cage cited numerous predecessors. In the liner notes for the very first recording of his most highly acclaimed work for prepared piano, Sonatas and Interludes, Cage wrote: "Composing for the prepared piano is not a criticism of the instrument. I'm only being practical." This article presents a complete list of Cage's works for prepared piano, with comments on each composition. All of Cage's indeterminate works for unspecified forces can also be performed on or with Prepared Piano.

Music for Piano is a series of 85 indeterminate musical compositions for piano by American avant-garde composer John Cage. All of these works were composed by making paper imperfections into sounds using various kinds of chance operations.

Jesse Stiles is an American electronic musician, record producer, sound designer and electronic artist known for his experimental and highly technical work.


  1. Holzaepfel, John. "David Tudor and Gordon Mumma". Liner note essay. New World Records.
  2. "David Tudor :: Foundation for Contemporary Arts". www.foundationforcontemporaryarts.org. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  3. Keefe, Alexander. "Subcontinental Synth: David Tudor and the First Moog in India". East of Borneo. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  4. Kozinn, Allan (August 15, 1996). "David Tudor, 70, Electronic Composer, Dies". The New York Times . Retrieved July 1, 2019.
  5. 1 2 Holzapfel, J. (2002). ‘Cage and Tudor’. In D. Nichols (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Cage (pp. 169–185). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. 1 2 Iddon, M. (2013). John Cage and David Tudor: Correspondence on Interpretation and Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Rogalsky, M. (2010). ‘“Nature” as an organising principle: Approaches to chance and the natural in the work of John Cage, David Tudor and Alvin Lucier’. Organised Sound, 15(2), 133–136. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1355771810000129
  8. Piekut, B. (2011). Experimentalism Otherwise. Berkeley: University of California Press.