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A major figure in 20th century music, Feldman was a pioneer of indeterminate 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 which he developed to create his characteristic sound: rhythms which seem to be free and floating; pitch shadings which seem softly unfocussed; a generally quiet and slowly evolving music; recurring asymmetric patterns. His later works, after 1977, also begin to explore extremes of duration.
Feldman studied piano with Madame Maurina-Press, a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni, and later composition with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan Wolpe. He did not agree with many of the views of these composition teachers, and he spent much of his time simply arguing with them. He was composing at this time, but in a style very different from that with which he would later be associated.
In 1950, Feldman went to hear the New York Philharmonic give a performance of Anton Webern's Symphony. At the concert, he met John Cage. The two became good friends, with Feldman moving into the apartment downstairs from Cage. With encouragement from Cage, Feldman began to write pieces which had no relation to compositional systems of the past, such as the constraints of traditional harmony or the serial technique. He experimented with non-standard 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 the use of chance in his composition in turn inspired John Cage to write pieces like the Music of Changes, where the notes to be played are determined by consulting the I Ching.
Feldman was commissioned to compose the score for Jack Garfein's 1961 film, Something Wild. However, after hearing the music for the opening scene, in which a character (played by Carroll Baker, incidently also Garfein's wife) is raped, the director promptly withdrew his commission, opting to enlist Aaron Copland instead. The reaction of the startled director was said to be, "My wife is being raped and you write celesta music?" 
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 the paintings of the abstract expressionists, and throughout the 1970s wrote a number of pieces around twenty-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 words by Samuel Beckett.
In 1973, at the age of 47, Feldman became the Edgard Varèse Professor (a title of his own devising) at the University at Buffalo. Prior to that time, Feldman had earned his living as a full-time employee at the family textile business in New York's garment district.
Later, he began to produce his very long works, often in one continuous movement, rarely shorter than half an hour in length and often much longer. These works include Violin and String Quartet (1985, around 2 hours), For Philip Guston (1984, around four hours) and, most extreme, the String Quartet II (1983, which is over six hours long without a break.)
"String Quartet II" was given its first complete performance at Cooper Union, New York City in 1999 by the FLUX Quartet, who issued a recording in 2003 (at 6 hours and 7 minutes, and spanning 5 CDs, or uninterrupted on 1 DVD) via New York's Mode Records. Typically, these pieces maintain a very slow developmental pace (if not static) and tend to be made up of mostly very quiet sounds. Feldman said himself that quiet sounds had begun to be the only ones that interested him. In a 1982 lecture, Feldman noted: "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 from pancreatic cancer in 1987 at his home in Buffalo, New York, after fighting for his life for three months.
See: List of compositions by Morton Feldman on Wikipedia.
- Feldman, Morton. Morton Feldman Says. Chris Villars, ed. London: Hyphen Press, 2006.
- Feldman, Morton. Morton Feldman in Middelburg. Lectures and Conversations. R. Mörchen, ed. Cologne: MusikTexte, 2008.
- Feldman, Morton. Give my regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman. B.H. Friedman, ed. Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 2000.
- Gareau, Philip. La musique de Morton Feldman ou le temps en liberté. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2006.
- Hirata, Catherin (Winter 1996). "The Sounds of the Sounds Themselves: Analyzing the Early Music of Morton Feldman", Perspectives of New Music 34, no.1, 6-27.
- Herzfeld, Gregor. "Historisches Bewusstsein in Morton Feldmans Unterrichtsskizzen", Archiv für Musikwissenschaft Vol. 66, no. 3, (Summer 2009), 218-233.
- Lunberry, Clark. “Departing Landscapes: Morton Feldman's String Quartet II and Triadic Memories.” SubStance 110: Vol. 35, Number 2 (Summer 2006): 17-50. (Available at http://www.cnvill.net/mftexts.htm [#105 on the list])
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Morton Feldman. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|