Age 40, Year of the ‘Signature Work’: The Cases of Cage, Reich and Adams
The ‘signature works’ of John Cage, Steve Reich and John Adams—4’33”, Music for Eighteen Musicians and Nixon in China, respectively—are widely considered landmarks in recent American music and also parallel one another in a fascinating way, as the completion of each signature work dates from the year its composer turned forty. This article investigates the role of each signature work in its composer’s stylistic development, studies the factors that led to the works’ creation, discusses what made these works so innovative, and examines common threads among the three composers’ career arcs in order to explore how their fortieth years became so pivotal in the context of their overall output. Is this age-related correspondence just an extraordinary coincidence or might it suggest broader correlations? Studies on age and creative achievement by psychologist Dean K. Simonton and others suggest that such correlations in fact exist and that the age of forty may be particularly significant, thus corroborating the significance of the intriguing age-related parallels among the careers of Cage, Reich and Adams.