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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interpreting the Octet '61 by Cornelius Cardew on the piano Szram, Aleksander Jozef


This thesis investigates the performer's options in approaching the interpretation of the Octet '61 (1961) by Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) as a solo piano performance. The Octet '61 is an indeterminate composition for any instrument(s) written using graphic notation. The score comprises sixty symbols and a set of performance instructions. The focus on a solo piano performance is justified for several reasons. It was published together with the February Pieces (1959-1961) for piano, the performance instructions by Cardew include several examples for a solo piano interpretation, and Cardew also composed a determinate version of the piece for solo piano, published as the Winter Potato No.1 (1961.) The thesis places the Octet '61 in the context of Cardew's indeterminate works, such as the February Pieces, Memories of You (1964) and Treatise (1963-1967), and compares it to works by other composers employing chance operations, specifically Music of Changes by Cage, Piano Sonata No.3 by Boulez and Klavierstück XI by Stockhausen. The content of the symbols and performing instructions is examined, and the testimony of Cardew interpreters John Tilbury, John White, David Bedford and Sam Richards is discussed. The content of the Winter Potato No.1 is compared to the Octet '61 symbols, and its relevance to the interpretation of the Octet '61 is gauged. The thesis contends that the Winter Potato No.1 is valuable as a demonstration of Cardew's contemporaneous interpretation of the symbols, but that it should not be used as a guide by other performers of the Octet '61. The Octet '61 was designed to take on a different form with each interpretation, and the use of the Winter Potato No.1 as a template would compromise this intention. The final chapter speculates as to why the Octet '61 is seldom performed at the turn of the 21st Century.

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