From Napervillewildcat, the free source of student-found facts. Written by Stephanie Che

4'33" (Four minutes, thirty-three seconds) was composed by American composer John Cage in 1952. It was written with a wide variety of insturments in mind. Therefore, it is customizeable, and is different each time it is played. What is special about this composition is not what is played, but what is not played. This piece is actually four minutes and thirty-three seconds of complete silence... from the orchestra that is. What really makes the real 'music' is not the orchestra, but the members in the audience. In this silence, the audience will cough, shift around in their seats, start tapping their feet, or even sneeze. It is difficult to tell what the audience will do (especially when they don't know what the piece is like).
A section of the sheet music for John Cage's 4'33"

That is where the true music comes from, the things going on around you, when you think no one is listening.

History of Concept

Silence has always been recognized by organisms. It is, the absence of sound. Therefore, it needed to be noticed, in fear od danger. However, that concept has not been used in music until late 19th century. Although John Cage's 4'33" is the most famous, Alphonse Allais has been credited with composing the first silence-composition. In 1897, Allais composed his piece Funeral March for the Deaf Man. The piece consits of nine blank measures.

In 1919, Ervin Schulhoff composed "In futurum" Fünf Pittoresken for the piano. The piece is made up of rests, with strange beats and carefully notated. This was a clear embracement for Dadaism, and preceeded Cage's 4'33" by over thirty years.

This silent composition has also been heard in Yves Klein's 1949 composition Monotone-Silence Symphony (informally known as The Monotone Symphony). The Monotone-Silence Symphony is a forty-minute orchestral piece in which the second and last movement are silent.

Contemporary Perspectives

In more recent times, people's opinions are quite divided. For the most part, it seems that people are either for or greatly against this kind of music. Influenced by Dadaism, this piece is much different than the usual music that people are used to hearing. Because of that, some people greatly rebel against this type of artwork, claiming that it mocks music (After all, John Cage also composed pieces which contained
An excerpt of Ervin Schulhoff's piece, Fünf Pittoresken

Social Impact

This piece is one of the more famous ones that comes up when it comes to the ever-lasting debate as to what exactly is art or not. This, along with many other works by John Cage have influenced many aspects of our recent generations. They really furthered along the idea of going against the norm, creating music to express your ideas in different forms.


The amazing aspect behind this work of art is actually the lack of technology. Because there is no sound coming from the orchestra, no technology is used in this work. No instruments are being played. However, technology from the audience continues to advance as it does in the general population. Now there might be the buzzing of a phone breaking the silence, or even a ringtone sounding in the quiet room. There might be the sound of a camera or a video recording taking this moment down as something physical.

Physics Content

external image speedofsound_large.gif
Different sounds are percieved by the ear by different frequencies and amplitudes. The higher the frequency, the higher the note. The larger the amplitude, the louder the sound. This applies to all sounds, not just from an insturment being played. For example, a ringtone that sounds loud and piercing will have a higher frequency and a larger amplitude. A muffled cough, or shifting in the seat will be lower in both amplitude and frequency, therefore harder to hear in a large concert hall.
The lack of sounds coming from the orchestra allows for the sound waves from the audience to move freely and unapposed, bouncing off of the surfaces in the concert hall. If the orchestra were to be playing, then the two opposing sound waves would oppose each other and would be destructive, potentially overcoming the sound from the audience.
Is this art

In my definition, art is something that is created by man in order to express an idea. Therefore, John Cage's 4'33" is art. It effectively expressions the hidden silence in our world, and how we rarely pay attention to it. It is a belief that I hold dear, and has greatly affected my life.