Premiered in 1948, Sonatas and Interludes was John Cage's magnum opus for the prepared piano; Maro Ajemian's 1951 recording for Dial Records was only one made of the whole work for nearly 30 years. It is hard to say that one recording of any Cage work that contains as many variables as does the Sonatas and Interludes is intrinsically "better" than another, as the results tend to be so different.
Since 1977 at least a dozen more have appeared, providing a sense that the Sonatas and Interludes have finally "arrived" as a standard-repertoire piece. While the "sonatas" do not entertain conventional classical sonata form, many of the phrases are laid out in haiku-like divisions of beats, for example 14 beats followed by 11 and then 14 more. Measured by the yardstick of representing both what is in John Cage's score and the sound of the prepared piano itself, there truly is no recorded option preferable to Music and Arts' John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano.


The preparation of the piano is quite elaborate and takes between 2 to 3 hours to complete. Music and Arts' John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano featuring pianist Julie Steinberg was originally released in 1996, and has the benefit of being performed on an "original instrument," a nine-foot Steinway "O" concert grand of the kind used by Maro Ajemian in the earliest performances of the work.
Most often, this subtle structural component becomes invisible in recordings, masked by the sonic complexity of the preparation, although they become obvious if one is following the work with the score in hand. A total of 45 notes are prepared, mainly with screws and bolts, but also 15 pieces of rubber, 4 pieces of plastic, 6 nuts, and one eraser. In more recent years there has been a tendency to perform this work on a smaller piano, instead of a concert grand. In Steinberg's recording, however, these phrases are audible, thanks to her even-handedness of tempo and touch.


More of Cage's preparation may be heard in this recording of the Sonatas and Interludes than in any other, down to the ringing, ethereal sounds that hang in the air long after a given note is struck. This is one aspect of Steinberg's Sonatas and Interludes that shares common ground with the now-ancient Maro Ajemian recordings that others simply do not match.



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