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Grove Music Online

Scratch Orchestra
Kathryn Gleasman Pisaro

https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.47477
Published in print: 20 January 2001
Published online: 2001

An orchestra devoted to the performance, composition,


understanding and dissemination of experimental music, founded in
1969 by the English composer Cornelius Cardew with Michael
Parsons and Howard Skempton. The orchestra’s immediate
precursors were the English improvisation group AMM and
Cardew’s class on experimental music at Morley College; its
manifesto was published in the Musical Times in 1969, and contains
a list of potential compositions for performance, among them works
by American experimentalists Young, Riley and Cage.

At its height the orchestra numbered over 100 members.


Membership was not limited to those with musical training but open
to all with an interest in experimental music, creating a group with a
diversity of musical backgrounds. The unique make-up of the
orchestra led to the creation of its own genre, ‘scratch music’, a
quiet music written or improvised independently by each member
and then performed simultaneously, either during meetings or
concerts. Other pieces written for and performed by the orchestra
include Christian Wolff’s Burdocks and Cardew’s The Great
Learning.

For the first two years the group’s anarchical social and political
structure meant that all musical and organizational ideas were
accepted equally. After two years, discontent among the members
brought about the politicization of the orchestra in a Marxist
direction: works to be performed had now to contain Marxist
elements such as political texts or proletariat work songs. This
politicization led by Cardew and other core members, was partially
responsible for the orchestra’s disbandment by the mid-1970s.
Despite its troubled end, many former members are committed to
maintaining the ideals of the orchestra in their work up to the
present day.

MSS in GB-Lbl ; tape recordings and other MSS in GB-Lmic


Principal publisher: Experimental Music Catalogue

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Bibliography
C. Cardew, ed.: Nature Study Notes: Improvisation Rites
(London, 1969)

C. Cardew: ‘A Scratch Orchestra: Draft Constitution’, MT,


110 (1969), 617–19

B. Dennis: ‘Cardew’s “The Great Learning”’, MT, 112


(1971), 1066–8

M. Nyman: ‘Cornelius Cardew’s “The Great Learning”’,


London Magazine, new ser., 11/5 (1971–2), 130–35

C. Cardew, ed.: Scratch Music (London, 1974) [with


introduction]

R. Eley: ‘A History of the Scratch Orchestra, 1969–72’,


Stockhausen Serves Imperialism and Other Articles, ed. C.
Cardew (London, 1974)

M. Nyman: Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond


(London, 1974)
See also
Cardew, Cornelius
Smith, Dave

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individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Music Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).