Cornelius Cardew – Stockhausen Serves Imperialism

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The American composer and writer John Cage, born 1912, and the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, born 1928, have emerged as the leading figures of the bourgeois musical avant-garde. They are ripe for criticism. The grounds for launching an attack against them are twofold: first to isolate them from their respective schools and thus release a number of younger composers from their domination and encourage these to turn their attention to the problems of serving the working people, and second, to puncture the illusion that the bourgeoisie is still capable of producing “geniuses.” —Cornelius Cardew

Originally published in 1974, Stockhausen Serves Imperialism is a collection of essays by the English composer Cornelius Cardew that provides a Marxist critique of two of the more revered avant-garde composers of the post-war era: Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage.

A former assistant to Stockhausen and a champion of Cage in England, Cardew provides a cutting rebuke of the composers’ works and ideological positions, which he saw as reinforcing an imperialist order rather than spotlighting and serving the struggles of the working class. The author also provides constructive criticism of his contemporaries Christian Wolff and Frederic Rzewski for utilizing politically progressive content, yet failing to work in a musical form that would appeal to the proletariat. Cardew’s music does not escape his own scrutiny: the book contains critiques and repudiations of his canonical compositions from the 1960s and early 1970s, Treatise and The Great Learning. After abandoning the avant-garde, Cardew devoted his work to the people’s struggle, creating music in service of his radical politics until his mysterious death in 1981.

126 pages, 14 x 22.2 cm, paperback, Primary Information (New York).