Morton Feldman

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Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman (January 12, 1926 – September 3, 1987), American composer, known for some of his unique instrumental pieces, composed by isolated sounds of very long duration and for unusual groupings of instruments (for example, several pianos).

Morton_Feldman’s Biography

Morton Feldman was born in New York City on January 12, 1926. He studied piano with Madame Maurina-Press (student of Ferruccio Busoni) and later, composition with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan Wolpe, to whom he subsequently dedicated a of his most outstanding works. Despite the appreciation he felt for his teachers, he disagreed about his theories about musical art, and used to argue with them for long hours. He was a composer very much of his time, but nevertheless cultivated a personal and different style with respect to most of the composers of his environment.

In 1950, and during the audition of an Anton Webern symphony by the New York Philharmonic, he met John Cage, one of his greatest influences throughout his life. The two became good friends, and as a result of this encounter, Morton Feldman began to write pieces that moved away from classical and modern musical forms (like the serial techniques, so in vogue in those years). He experimented with alternative systems of musical notation, such as his “indeterminate graphic pieces”, where he only specified the timbres and the record, leaving the rhythm and notes to the interpreter’s choice. At this time, he also tried to apply elements of probability theory to his compositions, mainly inspired by works like Music of Changes, by the aforementioned John Cage. In the mid-50s, and due to the need for precision in his music, he returns to traditional notation.

Always through Cage, Feldman meets some of the most important personalities of the New York art scene, which at that time highlighted Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Frank O’Hara and Samuel Beckett. Especially, he was fascinated by the first and his colleagues; his paintings, framed within abstract expressionism, became a great new inspiration for him. He pointed out:

“The new painting made me want a sound world, more direct, more immediate, more physical than everything that existed before, for me, my score is my canvas, my space, what I’m trying to do is to sensitize this area, this space-time. “

As of that moment, he will try to extrapolate the paintings of these artists to his compositions, as it is reflected in his next comment:

I am interested in the global dimension of Rothko, which nullifies the concept of relations between proportions. It is not the form that allows the painting to emerge; Rothko’s discovery has been to define a global dimension that holds the elements in balance … I am the only one who composes in this way, as Rothko: basically it is only about maintaining this tension, or this state, at the Once frozen and in vibration.

During the decade of the 70s, and almost always with this idea in mind, he wrote a good number of pieces, among which Rothko Chapel (1971), a piece written to be performed in the chapel designed by Rothko, Frank O ‘Hara (1973), and the opera Neither (1977), which he dedicated to Samuel Beckett.

In his last stage, Feldman began producing his own works. Perhaps it is his most dense and dark period, where his music reaches mystical levels of unreality, with long compositions that often exceeded an hour and a half in length, even reaching five hours in String Quartet II (1983). This is one of the composer’s most memorable works, although his first full performance could not be heard until 15 years later. For Philip Guston (1984) and Violin and String Quartet (1985), of 4 and 2 hours respectively, were other of his outstanding works of this era. In all these pieces, Feldman took to the extreme the influences of his abstract expressionist colleagues, temporarily interpolating the large surfaces of Pollock and Rothko to his compositions, which explains their long duration. Absence of climax, dissonance, serenity and prolonged notes to infinity are some of the common attributes that characterize these pieces, the most remembered of the composer.

Morton Feldman dies in 1987 in Buffalo (New York) shortly after his marriage to composer Barbara Monk.

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