In Germany, organ music for the ages

Associated Press Writer

In an abandoned church in Halberstadt, Germany, the world’s longest concert moved two notes closer to its end Monday: Three years down, 636 to go. The addition of an E and E-sharp complement the G-sharp, B and G-sharp that have been playing since February 2003 in composer John Cage’s “Organ2/ASLSP” (“Organ squared/As slow as possible”).

The five notes are the initial sounds played on a specially built organ -- one in which keys are held down by weights, and new organ pipes will be added as needed as the piece is stretched out to last generations.

The concert is more than an avant-garde riff on Cage’s avant-garde oeuvre, which includes a piece consisting of four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.


“It has a philosophical background: In the hectic times in which we live, to find calm through this slowness,” said Georg Bandarau, who helps run the private foundation behind the concert. “In 639 years, maybe they will only have peace.”

The concert began Sept. 5, 2001, the day Cage would have turned 89 (he died in 1992). The composition, written to last 20 minutes, starts with a silence, and the only sound for the first 1 1/2 years was air. The first notes were played in February 2003. The two new notes rang out Monday evening.

After debates about what exactly “as slow as possible” could mean, the German music experts and organ builder behind the project chose the concert’s 639-year running time to commemorate the creation of the city’s Blockwerk organ in 1361.

Halberstadt’s disused Burchardi church, now appropri-ately simple and unadorned, was chosen as a concert hall. About 10,000 tourists visited between April and September of last year to hear the first three notes, Bandarau said.

Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912, and was influential as a musician and a thinker. “Organ2/ASLSP” was composed in 1985 for piano but two years later was rearranged for organ.

The next change is in March 2006, when two notes will be taken away.