John Cage: ‘I met Schoenberg and he’s simplicity and genuineness itself’

John Cage: ‘I met Schoenberg and he’s simplicity and genuineness itself’


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2013

A small trove of John Cage love letters was found in the estate of an architect’s widow in Los Angeles. In 1934-35, Cage was in love with Pauline Schindler, who was separated from her husband at the time. He was also trying to marry the daughter of a Greek Orthodox priest. Cage was 22, Pauline (pictured) 41. Full text here. The letters were first printed in a specialist journal in 1996. Reading them this morning ((h/t: Michael Nyman) has made my day.

The period of the affair covers the start of Cage’s lessons with the newly-arrived Arnold Schoenberg:

I met Schoenberg and he is simplicity and genuineness itself. There was analysis of the Dance Suite hanging up on the wall like a mural.


(photo: Dorothea Lange)

Here are some further excerpts:

…. The sooner the world forgets Stravinsky the better….

STRAVINSKI! … The evening was pure joy–and I think that this music is natural. There are no mideas” in it. It is, you know it, pagan, physical. It is seeing life close and loving it so. There are no whirring magical mystifications. It is all clear and precisely a dance. It is not “frozen architecture.”

I heard one person say afterwards: Henceforth I shall not take music seriously but shall enjoy it twice as much.” I was furious and turned to him and said, Take it twice as seriously and enjoy it four times as much!…

I took my first lesson in Schoenberg’s class yesterday (Monday)

evening. He is marvelous, indescribable, as a musician. I am going to the last 3

rehearsals. In the class we are analyzing Brahms Symphony No. 4, Kunst der Fuge.

Well tempered Clavichord and Schoenberg. Quartet III (String).

(h/t: Michael Nyman)


  • Noah Hardaway says:

    This is a wonderful discovery.

  • What “specialist journal”? It would be nice to have a cite (“In-analytical”) other than Michael Nyman.

  • John Crosse says:

    You likely obtained this image of Pauline Schindler from my article “Schindlers-Westons-Kashevaroff-Cage” which your readers who wish to learn more of this relationship and Cage’s subsequent mariage to Xenia Kashevaroff can find at: