John Cage – Story No. 68 from 90 Stories, with Music

When the depression began, I was in Europe. After a while I came back and lived with my family in the Pacific Palisades.

I had read somewhere that Richard Buhlig, the pianist, had years before in Berlin given the first performance of [Arnold] Schoenberg’s Opus 11. I thought to myself: He probably lives right here in Los Angeles. So I looked in the phone book and, sure enough, there was his name. I called him up and said, “I’d like to hear you play the Schoenberg pieces.” He said he wasn’t contemplating giving a recital. I said, “Well, surely, you play at home. Couldn’t I come over one day and hear the Opus 11.” He said, “Certainly not.” He hung up.

Then, about a year later, the family had to give up the house in the Palisades. Mother and Dad went to an apartment in Los Angeles. I found an auto court in Santa Monica where, in exchange for doing the gardening, I got an apartment to live in and a large room back of the court over the garages, which I used as a lecture hall. I was nineteen years old and enthusiastic about modern music and painting. I went from house to house in Santa Monica explaining this to the housewives. I offered ten lectures for $2.50. I said, “I will learn each week something about the subject that I will then lecture on.”

Well, the week came for my lecture on Schoenberg. Except for a minuet, Opus 25, his music was too difficult for me to play. No recordings were then available. I thought of Richard Buhlig. I decided not to telephone him but to go directly to his house and visit him. I hitchhiked into Los Angeles, arriving at his house at noon. He wasn’t home. I took a pepper bough off a tree and, pulling off the leaves one by one, recited, “He’ll come home; he won’t; he’ll come home . . .” It always turned out He’ll come home. He did. At midnight. I explained I’d been waiting to see him for twelve hours. He invited me into the house. When I asked him to illustrate my lecture on Schoenberg, he said, “Certainly not.” However, he said he’d like to see some of my compositions, and we made an appointment for the following week.

John Cage