Morton Feldman

Last updated

Morton Feldman
Persconferentie componist Morton Feldman in concertgebouw Amsterdam in verband m, Bestanddeelnr 928-6142.jpg
Feldman in 1976
Born(1926-01-12)January 12, 1926
Queens, New York City
DiedSeptember 3, 1987(1987-09-03) (aged 61)
Works List of compositions
Spouse Barbara Monk Feldman (m.1987)
Signature
Morton Feldman (signature).png

Morton Feldman (January 12, 1926 – September 3, 1987) was an American composer. A major figure in 20th-century classical music, Feldman was a pioneer of indeterminacy in music, a development associated with the experimental New York School of composers also including John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Earle Brown. Feldman's works are characterized by notational innovations that he developed to create his characteristic sound: rhythms that seem to be free and floating, pitch shadings that seem softly unfocused, a generally quiet and slowly evolving music, and recurring asymmetric patterns. His later works, after 1977, also explore extremes of duration.

Contents

Biography

Morton Feldman was born in Woodside, Queens, New York City, on January 12, 1926. His parents, Irving and Frances Breskin Feldman, were Russian Jews who had emigrated to New York from Pereiaslav (Irving, in 1910) and Bobruysk (Frances, in 1901). [1] His father was a manufacturer of children's coats. [2] [3] As a child he studied piano with Vera Maurina Press, who instilled in him a "vibrant musicality rather than musicianship". [4] Feldman's first composition teachers were Wallingford Riegger, one of the first American followers of Arnold Schoenberg, and Stefan Wolpe, a German-born Jewish composer who had studied under Franz Schreker and Anton Webern. Feldman and Wolpe spent most of their time simply talking about music and art. [5]

In early 1950, Feldman heard the New York Philharmonic perform Webern's Symphony , op. 21. After this work, the orchestra was to perform a piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Feldman left immediately, disturbed by the audience's disrespectful reaction to Webern's work. [6] In the lobby he met John Cage, who was at the concert and had also decided to step out. [7] The two quickly became friends, with Feldman moving into the building Cage lived in. Through Cage, he met sculptor Richard Lippold (who had a studio next door with artist Ray Johnson); artists Sonia Sekula, Robert Rauschenberg, and others; and composers such as Henry Cowell, Virgil Thomson, and George Antheil. [8] An interview with Feldman was published in the first issue of 0 to 9 magazine in 1967.

With Cage's encouragement, Feldman began to write pieces that had no relation to compositional systems of the past, such as traditional harmony or the serial technique. He experimented with nonstandard systems of musical notation, often using grids in his scores, and specifying how many notes should be played at a certain time but not which ones. Feldman's experiments with notation and indeterminacy inspired Cage to write pieces like Music of Changes , where the notes to be played are determined by consulting the I Ching.[ citation needed ]

Through Cage, Feldman met many other prominent figures in the New York arts scene, among them Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Frank O'Hara. He found inspiration in abstract expressionist painting, [9] and in the 1970s wrote a number of pieces around 20 minutes in length, including Rothko Chapel (1971, written for the building of the same name, which houses paintings by Mark Rothko) and For Frank O'Hara (1973). In 1977, he wrote the opera Neither with original text by Samuel Beckett. [10]

Feldman was commissioned to compose the score for Jack Garfein's 1961 film Something Wild , but after hearing Feldman's music for the opening scene, in which a character (played by Garfein's wife Carroll Baker) is raped, the director promptly withdrew his commission, opting to enlist Aaron Copland instead. Garfein's reaction was said to be, "My wife is being raped and you write celesta music?" [11]

Feldman's music "changed radically" in 1970, moving away from graphic and arhythmic notation systems in favor of rhythmic precision. [12] The first piece of this new period was a short, 55-measure work, "Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety", dedicated to his childhood piano teacher.

In 1973, at age 47, Feldman became the Edgard Varèse Professor of Music Composition (a title of his own devising) at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York; until then, he had earned his living as a full-time employee at the family textile business in Manhattan's Garment District. Feldman also held residencies at the University of California, San Diego in the 1980s.

Late in his career, Feldman produced a number of very long works, rarely shorter than half an hour and often much longer. These include Violin and String Quartet (1985, around 2 hours), For Philip Guston (1984, around four hours), and String Quartet II (1983, over six hours long without a break). These pieces typically maintain a very slow developmental pace and a very quiet dynamic range. Feldman said at the time that quiet sounds had become the only ones that interested him; in a 1982 lecture, he asked: "Do we have anything in music for example that really wipes everything out? That just cleans everything away?"

Feldman married the Canadian composer Barbara Monk shortly before his death. He died of pancreatic cancer on September 3, 1987, at his home in Buffalo.

Works

See: List of compositions by Morton Feldman

Notable students

Footnotes

  1. Morton Feldman «The Early Years»
  2. Ross 2006.
  3. Hirata 2002, p. 131.
  4. Zimmermann 1985, p. 36.
  5. Gagne & Caras 1982.
  6. Feldman, Morton. "Liner Notes". Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman. Ed. B. H. Friedman. Cambridge: Exact Change, 2000. 4. Print.
  7. Revill 1993, p. 101.
  8. Feldman 1968.
  9. Vigeland, Nils. "Morton Feldman: The Viola in my Life". Liner note essay. New World Records.
  10. Ruch, A. Morton Feldman's Neither, themodernword.com, May 17, 2001. Retrieved October 30, 2012. Archived November 23, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  11. Wilson, Peter Niklas. "Canvasses and time canvasses". Chris Villars Homepage. Retrieved May 30, 2011.
  12. Feldman, Morton (February 2, 1973). "Morton Feldman Slee Lecture, February 2, 1973". State University of New York at Buffalo. Archived from the original on June 28, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2012.

Sources

Further reading

Listening

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Tudor</span> Musical artist

David Eugene Tudor was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Cage</span> American avant-garde composer (1912–1992)

John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer and music theorist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage's romantic partner for most of their lives.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arditti Quartet</span>

The Arditti Quartet is a string quartet founded in 1974 and led by the British violinist Irvine Arditti. The quartet is a globally recognized promoter of contemporary classical music and has a reputation for having a very wide repertoire. They first became known taking into their repertoire technically challenging pieces. Over the years, there have been personnel changes but Irvine Arditti is still at the helm, leading the group. The repertoire of the group is mostly music from the last 50 years with a strong emphasis on living composers. Their aim from the beginning has been to collaborate with composers during the rehearsal process. However, unlike some other groups, it is loyal to music of a classical vein and avoids cross-genre music. The Quartet has performed in major concert halls and cultural festivals all over the world and has the longest discography of any group of its type. In 1999, it won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for lifetime achievement, being the first and only group to date to receive this award.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Christian Wolff (composer)</span> American composer of experimental classical music

Christian G. Wolff is an American composer of experimental classical music and classicist.

Benjamin Burwell Johnston Jr. was an American contemporary music composer, known for his use of just intonation. He was called "one of the foremost composers of microtonal music" by Philip Bush and "one of the best non-famous composers this country has to offer" by John Rockwell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Tenney</span> American composer and music theorist (1934–2006)

James Tenney was an American composer and music theorist. He made significant early musical contributions to plunderphonics, sound synthesis, algorithmic composition, process music, spectral music, microtonal music, and tuning systems including extended just intonation. His theoretical writings variously concern musical form, texture, timbre, consonance and dissonance, and harmonic perception.

Graphic notation is the representation of music through the use of visual symbols outside the realm of traditional music notation. Graphic notation became popular in the 1950s, and can be used either in combination with or instead of traditional music notation. Graphic notation was influenced by contemporary visual art trends in its conception, bringing stylistic components from modern art into music. Composers often rely on graphic notation in experimental music, where standard musical notation can be ineffective. Other uses include pieces where an aleatoric or undetermined effect is desired. One of the earliest pioneers of this technique was Earle Brown, who, along with John Cage, sought to liberate performers from the constraints of notation and make them active participants in the creation of the music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modernism (music)</span> Changes in musical form during the early 20th Century

In music, modernism is an aesthetic stance underlying the period of change and development in musical language that occurred around the turn of the 20th century, a period of diverse reactions in challenging and reinterpreting older categories of music, innovations that led to new ways of organizing and approaching harmonic, melodic, sonic, and rhythmic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews in close relation to the larger identifiable period of modernism in the arts of the time. The operative word most associated with it is "innovation". Its leading feature is a "linguistic plurality", which is to say that no one music genre ever assumed a dominant position.

Inherent within musical modernism is the conviction that music is not a static phenomenon defined by timeless truths and classical principles, but rather something which is intrinsically historical and developmental. While belief in musical progress or in the principle of innovation is not new or unique to modernism, such values are particularly important within modernist aesthetic stances.

Earle Brown was an American composer who established his own formal and notational systems. Brown was the creator of "open form," a style of musical construction that has influenced many composers since—notably the downtown New York scene of the 1980s and generations of younger composers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grete Sultan</span> German-American pianist (1906–2005)

Grete Sultan was a German-American pianist.

The FLUX Quartet is an American string quartet dedicated to the performance of contemporary classical music. It was founded in 1998 and is based in New York City. The group is renowned for its performances of Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2, which lasts for more than six hours. It has performed to rave reviews in venues of all sorts, from Carnegie's Zankel Hall and Kennedy Center, to influential art institutions such as EMPAC, The Kitchen, and the Walker Art Center, to international music festivals in Australia, Europe, and the Americas. It has also premiered new works on numerous experimental series, including Roulette, Bowerbird, and the Music Gallery. FLUX's radio credits include NPR's All Things Considered, WNYC's New Sounds and Soundcheck, and WFMU's Stochastic Hit Parade. The group's discography includes recordings on the Cantaloupe, Innova, Tzadik, and Cold Blue Music labels, in addition to two critically acclaimed releases on Mode Records that encompass the full catalogue of string quartet works by Morton Feldman.

Stephen Whittington is an Australian composer, pianist, teacher and writer of music.

Indeterminacy is a composing approach in which some aspects of a musical work are left open to chance or to the interpreter's free choice. John Cage, a pioneer of indeterminacy, defined it as "the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways".

Paul Zukofsky was an American violinist and conductor known for his work in the field of contemporary classical music.

<i>Piano and String Quartet</i> (Feldman) 1985 composition by Morton Feldman

Piano and String Quartet is a composition by American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman. It was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and pianist Aki Takahashi, who premiered the piece at the 7th annual New Music America Festival in Los Angeles and released a studio recording in 1993.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David Felder</span> American composer and academic

David Felder is an American composer and academic who was a SUNY Distinguished Professor at the University at Buffalo until his retirement in 2022. He was also the director of both the June in Buffalo Festival and the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jan Williams</span>

Jan Williams is a percussionist, arts administrator, teacher, conductor, and composer who has championed avant-garde and progressive music in the United States. He is recognized as an important proponent of percussion performance and its literature.

<i>Imaginary Landscape No. 5</i>

Imaginary Landscape No. 5 is a composition by American composer John Cage and the fifth and final installment in the series of Imaginary Landscapes. It was composed in 1952.

<i>Piece for Four Pianos</i> Composition by Morton Feldman

Piece for Four Pianos is a musical composition for four pianos by American composer Morton Feldman. It was finished in 1957.