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Collaged Codes: John Cage's Credo in Us
Cox, Gerald Paul

2011, Doctor of Philosophy, Case Western Reserve University, Musicology.

John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s life-long collaboration is one of the richest performing arts partnerships of the twentieth century, one that led to radical new modes of expression in music and dance. This dissertation offers a comprehensive study of their first collaboration, Credo in Us (1942), a satiric dance-drama about a dysfunctional married couple set in the American West. Cunningham and Jean Erdman jointly created the choreography and Cunningham wrote a scenario and script inspired by James Joyce and French surrealist poetry.
Conceived just weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Credo offers a window into a unique moment in American cultural history, when exiled European artists escaping Nazi persecution arrived in New York and engaged with their American counterparts. Cage was immersed in this thriving community of artists while living in Peggy Guggenheim’s home, where he met the luminaries of the European avant-garde, including Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and André Breton.
It is in this vibrant context that Cage creates his score for Credo, which is significant for two interrelated reasons. First, it embraces a collage aesthetic, juxtaposing a diverse range of musical styles and sounds, from folk music and jazz to phonograph samples, radio sounds, and “found” percussion noises. Second, Cage’s incorporation of random elements in the score anticipates his later embrace of indeterminacy and chance procedures in the post-war period, a move that had profound implications in music, art, literature, dance, and theatre that resonate to this day.


This study takes an interpretative approach that encompasses the interdisciplinary elements of Credo, as well as its historical and social context. Its focus is on the interrelationship between the dance, script and music and how the collaborative process informed Cage’s embrace of a collage aesthetic. This illuminates the ways in which Cage’s aesthetic engagement with the European avant-garde and collaborative work with choreographers informed his most significant compositional experiments. From this perspective, Cage appears less as an iconoclastic trickster working alone on the margins of the music world, and more as a voracious Dadaist embracing ideas from a wide range of sources to challenge the boundary between art and life.

Mary Davis, Dr. (Committee Chair)
David Bernstein, Dr. (Committee Member)
Daniel Goldmark, Dr. (Committee Member)
Francesca Brittan, Dr. (Committee Member)
John Orlock, Dr. (Committee Member)
217 p.

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Cox, G. (2011). Collaged Codes: John Cage's Credo in Us. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Cox, Gerald. "Collaged Codes: John Cage's Credo in Us." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2011. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 26 Jun 2017.

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Cox, Gerald "Collaged Codes: John Cage's Credo in Us." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2011. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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