An unconventional faculty holds its first meeting

On this day in 1933: Black Mountain College, destined to become one of the most important breeding grounds of American art, literature, music and dance in the 20th century, holds its first faculty meeting.

The college is a Depression-era confluence of the progressive education movement in America and the Bauhaus design school in Germany, carried over by Jewish emigrants exiled by the Nazis.

It is at Black Mountain that composer John Cage will stage the first “happening,” a spontaneous reaction by a group to stimuli; Buckminster Fuller will build his first geodesic dome and choreographer Merce Cunningham will found his dance company. Among the school’s advisers: Albert Einstein and Carl Jung.

Its heyday past, Black Mountain will succumb to financial problems in 1956. Its campus is sold and becomes a boys camp.


Beethoven bonfire at Black Mountain?

“In 1948, his first year of teaching at Black Mountain College, John Cage gave a lecture on Erik Satie, at the time a little-known French composer. To make his point about Satie’s significance, Cage weighed him against a composer who needed no introduction. ‘Beethoven was in error,’ he said, ‘and his influence, which has been as extensive as it is lamentable, has been deadening to the art of music.’ All that could be said of the German composer is that his legacy was to ‘practically shipwreck the art on an island of decadence’….

“For his apostasy Cage not only alienated several friends among the Black Mountain music faculty but inspired, at least if the anecdotes can be believed, a number of students to torch their Beethoven records.”

— From “Roll Over Beethoven” at (Dec/Jan 2013)