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About this Piece

Music for Marcel Duchamp by John Cage (1912-1992) began its life in the Hans Richter film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947). Joe figures out a way to pay his expensive rent by peering into the eyes of his troubled clients and giving them the dreamiest of avant-garde dreams, each crafted by a different artist. Man Ray and Alexander Calder make dreams with music from Darius Milhaud and Paul Bowles among the half-dozen reveries.

Following a riot, a gangster barges into Joe’s room demanding a dream that will help win at the horse races.

“OK, bub, here’s what you asked for. I hope it works.”

Our gangster dreams of spinning discs by Duchamp, choreographed by Merce Cunningham and soundtracked by Cage. A spare, delicate song resonates like an easterly breeze from Cage’s Indian mediations, the music plucks and strums from a prepared piano (its sound modified by objects placed on the strings). The silence between sounds allows each note to shimmer, to halo into the void, like golden glow of a sinking sun. Rearranged for a string quartet, these players make their instruments a chance piano, a deeper halo for this oneiric tune.

Unappreciative of the utter lack of horses in his dream, our gangster beats the dream maker and mugs him of all his money.

— From an essay by Andrew Berardini