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273" - Two hundred and seventy three seconds

273" - Two hundred and seventy three seconds

for 21 instruments

273" was commissioned by Ars Musica as a comment on Cage's Silence (4'33" ). In 4'33" (4 minutes and 33 seconds, in total 273 seconds) John Cage paid tribute to various composers. The number 273 has been used by several composers as a structural base for their music. Béla Bartók used this number consciously for the first time, considering it as the product of the golden section (13 x 21), in his Sonata for two pianos and percussion, where the recapitulation of the first movement starts on golden section, exactly after 273 bars. We will never know whether Cage was aware of this fact. From his notation we only learn that the composer used Tarot cards and I Ching during the composing process. Nothing however explains why the work must exactly take 273 seconds in performance. I Ching unveiled to Cage that the composition should measure an even number of seconds. So why does Silence then count 273 seconds, and not 272? This similarity with Bartók does not seem to be farfetched. In my opinion it is very well possible that Cage added a few seconds, just to link his Silence with compositions from the past. This was the starting-point for 273", in which I explored the mutual relations according to the golden section in a time frame of 273 seconds.

I have always considered Cage's Silence to be of the most abstract compositions ever (because of the non-presence of tones). Yet for me it is also the most serial and traditional work by Cage, precisely because of the striking existence of the golden ratio number 273. Precisely for that reason, Cage's Silence (4'33" ) inspired me to create my most calculated and serial work 273". The underlying structure of my 273" not only refers to Cage, yet also to other composers such as Béla Bartók.

The composition is microtonal (based on quarter tones instead of half tones), yet the underlying serial structure is not the goal in itself. The system only gets its value as a means to achieve the essence: the sounding result. Therefore, my 273" has little to do with silence. One can hear mysterious, meditative harmonies, evolving in time (rhythm) and space (tessitura). 273" became an important composition for my musical evolution: the form became a symbiosis of everything I had hitherto been occupied with, style and microtonality were new in the process of my evolution, and they would have a big impact on my String Quartet (2004).

273" - Two hundred and seventy three seconds


HERMESensemble, cond. Koen Kessels

4 minutes
33 seconds
  • Flute / Piccolo
  • Oboe
  • Clarinet in Bb
  • Bass Clarinet in Bb
  • Trumpet
  • Trombone
  • Percussion (3 players, including 1 keyboard player for electronic sample on synthesizer)
  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Violoncello
  • Double Bass
Commissioned by
Ars Musica
In cooperation with
Ars Musica


deSingel, Antwerp, Blauwe Zaal
HERMESensemble, cond. Koen Kessels