Saturday, January 14, 2012

January 12th: Happy Birthday to Morton Feldman

A new feature in this blog: happy birthday to composers and other musicians whose music I’ve enjoyed, or been challenged by, or have personal stories about…

Jan. 12 – Morton Feldman

A couple of days ago a message popped up on my Facebook page saying “Happy Birthday, Uncle Morty!” and a picture of Morton Feldman. I looked it up – yes, January 12th; two days late.

Feldman’s style has been called minimalism, though its aesthetic is a thousand miles away from Philip Glass or Steve Reich. My own experience with Feldman’s music (live) was at a concert in the Seattle Public Library some years back – a chamber ensemble played several of Feldman’s two-hour pieces in a room full of color-field paintings. The visual and auditory aspects of art were shown to be related here; Feldman’s slow, quiet musical gestures perfectly matched the expansive, quiet paintings. A group of music fans sat on provided chairs (though there weren’t enough; about half of the audience sat on the floor), listening intently. Other museum patrons, not aware that a concert was taking place, wandered around looking at the paintings, commenting to each other and occasionally glancing at the musicians with puzzled expressions. Many of these museumgoers, after walking around a while, sat down with the rest of the audience and listened to the music. In the end, the intense calm created its own atmosphere.

A couple of days later I happened to be teaching a high school music class and mentioned this concert – the students wouldn’t believe that there had been a concert in a museum…


PRIZE PACKAGE AT AN INFORMAL “SAYS-YOU” TOURNAMENT THAT I PLAYED IN: Michael Feldman “Whad’Ya Know” game kit, “Crippled Symmetry” CD by Morton Feldman, and a DVD of the movie “Young Frankenstein”, starring Marty Feldman.


I have a solo piece in the manner of Morton Feldman, the fourth in a set of pieces based on Japanese woodblock prints. It is the longest in the set, and consists of a series of phrases to be played 5 to 9 times, and improvisations (with or without meter) on given pitches. It is all very slow, very quiet, and does not present any recognizable harmonies or melodic material until the end. Like the way I perceive Feldman’s work, it is intended to be both intense and calm, and worth deep concentration. I don’t know whether I’ve succeeded (it is, after all, a piece derivative of another’s style) but readers of this blog can judge for themselves. Click this link and scroll down to "Ukiyo-e part 4" (under "Piano Solos") to hear it.

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