Morton Feldman – For John Cage (1982)

For John Cage, for violin & piano (1982)

Stephen Clarke, piano
Marc Sabat, violin

Morton Feldman’s “For John Cage” scored for violin and piano, approximately 70 minutes long, was composed in 1982. This was during the last period of Feldman’s creative activity when made several works of extended listening durations, like the “Triadic Memories” (1981), “Patterns in a Chromatic Field” (also known as “Untitled Composition for Cello and Piano” (1981), “Crippled Symmetry” (1983), the 80-minute “String Quartet” (1979), the 43-minute ensemble piece “For Samuel Beckett” (1987), and the more than 4 and 1/2 hours of “For Philip Guston”. In his ensemble works, Feldman assigned certain identifiable gestures to certain individual instruments and instrumental groups, and these gestures would be repeated on long, asymmetrical time schedules. The rhythms would be gradually offset, the pitches would move through harmonic fields that would be outlined by changes in the single pitches, note duration and consequently coordination between parts would either be conventionally notated or be indeterminate and left to the choice of the performers. The resulting ensemble image would be like floating layers of sound passing each other and combining in various ways. In a work with only two instruments, such as this, the gradual modification of rhythm and other elements, is highlighted. In Feldman’s earlier works, notes would be relatively isolated, and every once in a while a motoric “loop” would be created from a sequence of notes, and would be repeated more or less without change for a brief period. In this work, these looping patterns pre-dominate. The violin and piano sometimes imitate each other, exchange parts, but most often share a pattern divided between themselves; . The patterns, although simple, are unpredictable both in their shape, their subtle modification in timbre, tempo, articulation (attack, non-attack) and their number of repetitions, or singular statement. There is no sense of traditional linear development, and there is, really, no exact repetition. Certain remarkable illusionary passages occur, for example, when the two instruments exchange parts: after a long time of single note repeats in the piano and two-note gestures in the violin, at approximately 20 minutes into the piece, the violin begins pulsing (at different tempi) and the piano plays two-note figure in the high and low registers. The effect on the listener is difficult to explain in previous musical terms, but the piano and violin start to be heard as distinct voices, even if the music looks the same on the page. As if your left and right brain functions (if those actually exist separately) have switched over to the other side. At approximately 26 minutes, extremely high notes, and a switch to triplet groups occur; small chromatic movements add to the eerieness. At approximately 48 minutes into the piece, clusters begin appearing in the piano part, and snaky microtonal inflections occur in the violin part; this is followed by chromatic scales in the piano part smeared with the sustaining pedal, and they are imitated almost in pitch unison by the violin playing in microtones, artificial harmonics and sul ponticello. This is truly a bizarre sound. All certainty assured by the traditional relation to pitch is gradually obscured. Gesture and shape become the prime vocabulary. The distorting mirror gradually becomes clear again. The piano provides an ascending ladder of tuning points adding up to more complex harmony than that of the beginning. There is a return to more energetic patterns. And then to the ascending chromatics (3 to 5 note patterns). The piece concludes with a slow 5-note ascending cluster. We are left with a great mystery simply expressed. “It’s a little piece for violin and piano, but it doesn’t quit” (Feldman in conversation with composer Peter Gena). [allmusic.com]

Art by John Cage

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Morton Feldman – String Quartet (1979)

Morton Feldman – String Quartet (1979) performed by: the Group for contemporary music.

Benjamin Hudson – violin
Carol Zeavin – violin
Lois Martin – viola
Joshua Gordon – cello

Composed in 1979. Recorded on 11 & 12 January 1993 at the State University of New York

Released on Koch International Classics (3-7251-2h1) in 1994.



Morton Feldman – Piano (1977)

One of the most complex of Feldman’s major works for piano solo, “Piano” uses four and sometimes six separate staves for its dense contrapuntal passages. In terms of rhythmic and textural complexity this piece has more in common with the String Quartet (1979) and the other pieces of the “Berlin period” than the later piano works.

Roger Woodward, the dedicatee, performs.

Art by Mark Rothko.








Morton Feldman – Neither (1977)

Neither, opera in 1 act for soprano & orchestra (1977)

Sarah Leonard, soprano
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra
Zoltan Pesko

The Rome Opera commissioned Morton Feldman to write an opera in 1977. In the same year, the composer collaborated with Irish writer Samuel Beckett, and Neither was completed and premiered. It is not an opera. There are no scene changes, no characters except for one unnamed female singer who performs only sixteen lines of text over the course of more than fifty minutes. There is neither plot nor chorus. However, with creative use of lighting, the work can be effectively staged despite the lack of operatic conventions. Many of Beckett’s late plays rely on little more than lighting to convey their visual worlds. Beckett and Feldman held each other’s work in high regard. Their first meeting was awkward, Feldman being the famously gregarious New Yorker while Beckett was a laconic, unsocial Irishman. They did not actually work together on the project. Beckett simply handed off completed text and the composer set it to music. It is a haunting work with a weird and sublime quality that does credit to both artists.

One of its most compelling qualities lies in the way Beckett and Feldman created and manipulated a text that demonstrates the variable effects of memory. Beckett began with a text that is broken up like poetry, and translated it into French. Then, retranslating one of the fragments into English, Beckett found that the line had been slightly altered from the original. He applied this operation to each fragment several times until the text was almost unrecognizable. This required him to forget what the original fragments said. Feldman’s mature music was likewise grounded in the moment, in the annulment of the listener’s memory of what has taken place beforehand; in the composer’s unique musical outlook, memory is of minor importance. What matters is sustaining the initial idea in a collection of moments until the possibilities of the initial idea have exhausted themselves. In art forms that traditionally depended so much upon memory, Beckett’s and Feldman’s approaches, and their confluence here, had revolutionary aspects.

Both the text and music are eerie in the extreme, suggesting a superficial comparison to Schoenberg’s Erwartung–which features a deranged woman singing of her confusion while the atonal soundscape suggests a Wagnerian treatment of dementia. Neither features a woman singing of something even more difficult to grasp, something unknowable, pointing toward an uncomfortable and unfamiliar world with music in which each moment erases the significance of its predecessor. Erwartung is an excellent example of expressionism, depicting the artist’s journey inward, confronting the inner torments of the subject, and Neither is a unique example of abstract expressionism, which rarely finds a voice in anything resembling an operatic format. The singer’s part conveys a feeling that does not have a name. Neither shocking nor conventional, she illustrates the character of the work. As in Erwartung, the singer in Neither is isolated, but the two states of isolation are different. Erwartung has a subject that cannot grasp the world due to a mental illness, which causes anxieties that unaffected people suffer to a lesser degree. Neither instead involves a truth: that there is no deferring death, whether one’s surroundings are familiar or unfamiliar. This is not madness, but rather a clear yet uncomfortable idea. Listeners learn nothing about the subject in Neither, and never know whether to feel sympathy or aversion toward her. The opposite is true in Erwartung; listeners experience both these emotions. Neither is a strikingly rewarding and original work that completely succeeds; indeed, it is probably almost-opera’s greatest statement. [Allmusic.com]

Art by Ouattara Watts

The first 10 minutes with visuals:




The complete opera:










Read more about the opera here and here.

Morton Feldman – Orchestra (1976)

Despite the explosion of Morten Feldman’s popularity and recordings of his works in recent years, his orchestral music has not received the attention it deserves. Orchestra is a walk through the orchestral landscape. Patterns come and go of their own accord as the music moves into unexplored territories. An important bridge between Feldman’s middle and late works. [Source]







Beat Furrer – Nuun for 2 pianos and ensemble (1996)

Thomas Bjørnseth from Norway just posted this piece by Swiss composer Beat Furrer on the contemporary music blog Atonality.net.

About the composer:

Beat Furrer (born 6 December 1954) is an Austrian composer and conductor of Swiss birth. Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Furrer relocated to Vienna in 1975 to pursue studies with Roman Haubenstock-Ramati (composition) and Otmar Suitner (conducting). In 1985 he co-founded what is now one of Europe’s leading contemporary music ensembles, Klangforum Wien, which he still conducts. Recent awards and honors include the Music Prize of the City of Vienna in 2003 and the Golden Lion, for the monodrama “FAMA,” at the 2006 Venice Biennale. Since 1991, he has served as professor of composition at the Graz University of Music and Dramatic Arts. The 25th anniversary of the Klangforum Wien was celebrated in 2010 at the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik with the premiere of his Xenos-Szenen for eight voices and ensemble.

About the work:

Just as the mythical goddess “NU” (compare Robert Graves, “The White Goddess”) was able to stop time still, in nuun the apparently overwhelming impetus of flowing sounds is slowly brought to a stop; purely mechanical energy is transformed into living energy. In Beat Furrer’s work for two pianos and orchestra, the central principle is transformation, specifically on the rhythmic, harmonic and tonal planes, as a continuous process from the beginning to the end. nuun is an almost unparalleled example of Furrer’s breadth of expression. The work goes from a thoroughly concise beginning to the final, lonely sound of the piano that eventually fades away into silence. Elements are slowly filtered out of the initial complexity, layers dissolve, making structures evident that were originally embedded in repetitive models as part of an overall sound. The composer’s intention was to “make evident the energy of movements and powers which form the substance of the music and go beyond it .” Beat Furrer compares this musical intention of the work to the “fine differentiations in colours that one recognizes as a result of observing a monochrome painting for a long time.” There is no need to add the notice: “shadowlike” (schattenhaft), on one of the last pages of the score to understand the parallels to Feldman’s favourite analogies. The shadowy sound of Beat Furrer’s composition is even related to the gentle graduality of a Morton Feldman composition in its radically different conception. The relationship even goes as far as the notation: nuun starts with a tiny rest for all of the instruments – a finesse taken from Feldman’s metaphysics. [Read more].

The music:

Get the sheet music here.

Bargemusic keeps reinventing itself with new programs

There is usually a moment early in any concert at Bargemusic when even listeners who have spent many evenings hearing music in this converted coffee barge find themselves wondering why they couldn’t have found something to do on dry land. The barge, moored on the Brooklyn side of the East River — near the River Café and a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge — is a boat, after all, and it is given to the gentle rocking motion that mariners love and landlubbers can find mildly disconcerting.

But part of the magic of Bargemusic is that you quickly forget about the motion. When you take your seat, you face a stage set before a large window that offers a spectacular view: the river, with its varied traffic, and the looming cityscape of Lower Manhattan. The performances, by an expansive roster of regulars, as well as visiting ensembles and soloists, are typically so involving that they eclipse even the view.

Lately the programming has been increasingly inventive, as Mark Peskanov, the violinist who has been Bargemusic’s president and executive and artistic director since 2006, has added a new-music series (Here and Now), an early-music series (There and Then) and jazz concerts to the diet of standard repertory solo and chamber works that has been Bargemusic’s main fare. All told, the barge presents about 220 concerts year round.

Read the full article in The New York Times here.

Album: Morton Feldman, Trio (Mode)

Reviewed by Andy Gill

Written in the early Eighties, Trio was one of Morton Feldman‘s first long-form pieces employing a conventional chamber palette of violin, cello and piano. It involves neither epic musical narrative nor the tedium of process music, its 105 minutes instead built from his usual small-scale blocks of sound.

This latest interpretation by Aki Takahashi, Rohan de Saram and Marc Sabat is full of Feldman’s usual tropes – the constantly shifting meter, the favouring of decay over attack, the “crippled symmetry” of repetition (in some cases, the same few notes played more than 50 times in succession, with subtle variations of touch and timing) without the imposition of minimalist pulse, and the evaporation of timbres at their upper extremes – resulting in a typically focused, absorbing and meditative experience unlike any other.

Here is another Morton Feldman recording by Aki Takahashi:

More information about the trio recording here.

Morton Feldman – Trio DVD

Morton Feldman’s Trio (1 hr, 45 min, 22 sec.) takes scale, the physical experience of sound and novel uses of musical memory into consideration. With his delicate manipulation of musical materials, Feldman blurs the listeners’ sense of time as their musical memory struggles to distinguish between past and present sounds – listeners are free to lose themselves in the beauty of each musical moment.

Aki Takahashi and Rohan de Saram (formerly of the Arditti Quartet) both worked closely with Feldman. Marc Sabat is among today’s great Feldman interpreters, having recorded Feldman’s complete music for violin & piano on Mode (mode 82/83).

Original recording in superb 96khz, 24-bit sonics. Two very distinct mixes were made for the surround and stereo versions. The natural reflected hall sound – which would typically be in the rear surround speakers – is not very dramatic because of the basically quiet nature of the Trio. Instead, for the surround mix, we chose to place the listener in an intimate perspective with the musicians: directly between the violin and the cello, with the piano in front. For the stereo mix, the violin and piano are clearly separated left and right to accentuate their interplay. Feldman’s use of extended string techniques can blur the timbral separation between cello and violin, creating unified sonic events exploring the qualities and possibilities of the combination of instruments – for example, utilising the resonance of the piano and the sustaining qualities and dynamic control of the strings. These subtle nuances are brought out by the detail of the recording.

SPECIAL DVD FEATURES:

• The recording sessions were filmed and directed by Tim Chu in High Definition Video, widescreen format. The intimate video allows the viewer to enjoy the subtle interplay of the performers.

• BONUS video essay on Feldman and Trio by noted German composer and Feldman expert Walter Zimmermann, who hosted the premiere of Trio at his Beginner’s Studio concerts in Köln (31-minutes).

• The DVD format allows the 105-minutes to be enjoyed continuously on one disc without a break.

• 5.1 Surround sound, presented in Dolby and 24-bit DTS. Also a dedicated Dolby stereo mix option.

The Darmstadt school's British invasion

In many ways, Darmstadt is a typical German city. It has a local beer, an opera house, parks and museums and an efficient tram network, and one night in September 1944 it was devastated by an Allied bombing raid. When people emerged from the shelters, they discovered a city in which four out of every five buildings was ruined. A year later, with the second world war over, reconstruction began. The fabric of the city was slowly restored – buildings, jobs, a political structure – and in the process, more or less by accident, something remarkable happened.

Casting around for ways to regenerate cultural life in the city, its new mayor, Ludwig Metzger, was persuaded by a local musicologist, Wolfgang Steinecke, to consider the possibility of establishing an institute for contemporary music. Because Darmstadt was in the American- controlled zone of occupied Germany, Metzger and Steinecke needed the approval of the American forces to develop their ideas and by happy coincidence the officer in charge of such initiatives was a former Harvard University music student, Everett Helms. The permissions were granted, and in the summer of 1946, American army trucks delivered grand pianos to a hunting lodge on the outskirts of Darmstadt, the temporary home for the first “courses for international new music”.

The courses were initially intended to denazify German musicians by introducing them to the modern music of the 1930s and 40s, music by Bartók, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, all of which had been outlawed as “degenerate” under Hitler. But soon new music by the next generation of composers became part of the courses too and by the early 1950s, the summer school, now subtly redesignated as the “international courses for new music”, was acquiring a reputation as the meeting place for aspiring avantgardistes not only from Germany but across Europe and beyond.

Read the full article in The Guardian here.