The Cage organ at St. Buchardi.
What is the longest piece of music ever performed?
Well at this point in time it is ORGAN2/ASLSP by
the American composer John Cage. The site of the
performance is the church of St. Buchardi in
Halberstadt, Germany — which was chosen due to
a mention by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) that
the church was the first to have an organ using
the 12 note structure we know today. The organ
used in the piece is a positive organ that is in
fact under construction as the piece progresses
with the addition of new pipes.
Taking the date of the original organ's construc-
tion as 1361, and subtracting from the millenium
year 2000, brings a result of 639 years — which
is how long the performance will last. The first
note of the piece began in September 2001 and
evidently the last addition came August 2011. The
next note change will be in July 2012. The per-
formance of Organ2/ASLSP is scheduled to end in
According to the Organ2/ASLSP website:
"The length of this performance symbolizes not
only, and that was Cage's intention, the perception
of music or a piece of music; It means also the
perception of time, supposed standstill and
transitoriness. As a generational project, this
piece of music resists the fast reception; the
simple solution which is preferred in our society."
Personally, I find it a very optimistic project.
It assumes that the church of St. Buchardi will
still stand undisturbed by wars and other trauma
over all those years; and indeed it assumes that
Western Civilization and even human beings will
still be around in 2640. But if the composition can
be completed, I think it would be an incredible
thing for the history of music. In that sense I
think Cage's work is visionary: What could be more
aleatory than depending on flawed human beings
and the history of our planet?
But perhaps the best view on the matter I have
heard came from one audience member at the 2008
addition. "It doesn't mean anything" he said.
"It just there."
Hilarious. And, in a Zen kind of way, very true.
To see one of the new notes being added you can
check out this video. You can also order a CD
of 75 minutes of the work here — you will also
get a sample of it, you won't have any choice.
And don't miss out either on this "parallel"
performance of Cage's work. Awesome!
Myself, I can't wait for the year 2640 when the
thing will no doubt be issued as a complete set
— all 4,198,230 CDs of it. I hope I can make
more shelf space by then.
John Cage (1912-1992).