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Christian Scheib | Happiness, in Multiperspectivity

In 1776, on the 4th of July, the American Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence of the United States, an important milestone from a democratic perspective, regardless of the actual political fight for independence from the British "mother country". The equality of all people including their right to the "pursuit of happiness" as set forth in the first paragraph of the Declaration should become legendary: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

200 years later, in 1976, people commemorate the bicentennial and the composer John Cage is commissioned to prepare a composition in celebration thereof. One could also see it from another perspective: It was the lifelong artistic aim of Cage, whose manner of gentle anarchism was inspired by American 19th century philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, to find and to draft an artistic formula for this right to the "pursuit of Happiness" in his own personal way; a formula according to which he himself would live. When he is commissioned to compose an ensemble and orchestra piece on the occasion of the bicentennial in 1976, he recalls old American religious hymns, the kind of which were sung in all churches across the 13 founding states at the time of the war of independence. These are simple chorales and hymns, often sung in four-part harmony. For years, John Cage had been interested in the compositional organisation-concept of the precisely applied coincidence because he regarded it as a way out of the old principle as well as of the, in his opinion, autocratically dictated artistic taste that should be overcome. Accordingly, he starts off with eight original hymns, exfoliating fragmentary parts from their old contexts with the help of the I Ching oracle. Of course – typical of John Cage – this does not take place completely incidentally, but rather follows strict rules that have been conceived before: Never should more than four of the total 93 orchestra parts be heard simultaneously, always in an indefinite and smooth "flow". Bizarrely beautiful, "incidental" new harmonies are born, the long-lost world of American hymns transpires through a semi-abstract painting of the 20th century, one singular viewpoint results in simultaneous multiperspectivity.

This piece, about 45 minutes long, has not been performed in its entirety for years; the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra only played the third ever complete performance – according to information provided by the music publisher – in autumn 2012. As regards to the arrangement of the orchestra's musicians, it may be uncharacteristic of the sound formation of the orchestra, but characteristic of the piece itself: Onstage, the musicians are not grouped according to their respective instruments including the hierarchical orders thereof, but come together in a formation that appears to be randomly mixed up, but in fact follows, yet again, an elaborate order aimed at placing possibly similar instruments only in the rarest of cases directly next to each other. Also in the rehearsal which laid the foundation for Katharina Struber's photo the arrangement of the musicians complies with the gentle anarchy of John Cage. 

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