Cage’s passionate, distraught and affectionate letters to Cunningham provide a vivid portrait of the start of their life together
These early letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham will be revelatory, for while the two are widely known as a dynamic, collaborative duo, the story of how and when they came together has never been fully revealed. In the 39 letters of this collection, spanning 1942–46, Cage shows himself to be a man falling deeply in love. When they first met at the Cornish School in Seattle in the 1930s, Cage was 26 to Cunningham’s 19. Their relationship was purely that of teacher and student, and Cage was also very much married.
It was in Chicago that their romantic relationship would begin. Cage was teaching at Moholy-Nagy’s School of Design when Cunningham passed through town as a dancer with the Martha Graham Company, appearing on stage on March 14, 1942. Cage’s letters, which begin in earnest a week later, are increasingly passionate, distraught, romantic and confused, and occasionally contain snippets of poetry and song. They are also more than love letters, as we see intimations that resonate with our experience of the later John Cage.
Love, Icebox takes its shape from these letters—transcribed, chronologically ordered, and in some instances reproduced in facsimile. Laura Kuhn, Cage’s assistant from 1986 to 1992 and now longtime director of the John Cage Trust, adds a foreword, afterword and running commentary. Photographic illustrations of their final 18th Street loft in New York City, as well as personal and household objects left behind, remind us of the substance and rituals of their long-shared life.