The Third Construction celebrates it’s 70th birthday this year, receiving its 1941 premiere in San Francisco by the Pacific Percussion Group, whose members included John and Xenia Cage, fellow composer Lou Harrison, Margaret Jansen, and Doris Dennison. Cage, who in the mid-1930’s having been discouraged against composing traditional harmonic and melodic music, pursued instead his intuitive inclinations towards aspects of rhythm and timbre. This creative focus produced a wealth of scores, many of which have since become standards in percussion recitals worldwide: beginning with Trio (1936), including both the three Constructions and electro-acoustic Imaginary Landscapes (1939 – 1943), and which contrast with his subtle and delicate works, Amores and She is Asleep (1943).
In the intervening years, the Third Construction has undeniably become one of the most performed and beloved chamber works for percussion. Predating what would become known as Cage’s gamut compositional technique, the piece is structured into 24 sections, each with 24 measures. Of these repeating 24-measure sections, each is segmented into phrases of 5, 3, 2, 8, 2, and 4 measures. By rotating this sequence of numbers among the four players, Cage achieves a wonderful balance of chaotic and dissociative rhythms among the quartet, while at the same time ensuring a strong current of pulse and groove. Of the many exotic instruments employed, its rather easy for one to draw a connection between Marchel Duchamp’s pioneering exploration of readymade and found art (of which Cage greatly admired), and his use of tin cans, tree pod rattles, and conch shell horns.
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