Morton Feldman


Born in New York on January 12th 1926, Morton Feldman had piano and composition lessons from a young age.  When Stefan Wolpe became his teacher, Feldman enjoyed learning about academic atonality, but still struggled to find his own voice.  In 1950 he met John Cage , who became a mentor to him, encouraging Feldman to follow his instincts, and not be afraid of challenging received tradition.  In the 50s he became friends with a circle of composers and artists which included Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, who inspired him to find and bring to life his own sound world. 

Feldman became an intuitive composer, working within no identifiable system.  He wanted to explore the sounds of instruments and their changes over time, to make music that was divested of personality and intellectual puff.  Rejecting standard notation, he experimented with graph notation, which allowed performers their own improvisatory input.  In pieces like Projection 2, musicians could vary the duration of the notes they were given, or choose their own chords or rhythm.  Feldman disliked the amount of improvisation these works demanded though, so returned to traditional notation until the orchestral works Atlantis and Out Of Last Pieces.  A series of instrumental works called Durations followed, in which only the length of notes are decided upon by the performers, who all begin playing simultaneously.

His compositions increased in length as he became interested in the passage of time and the movement of sound through a piece of music - his String Quartet No. 2 can last for six hours (with no breaks).  Lacking melody, harmony or rhythm, Feldman has been called a minimalist.  But the shifting and shimmering plains of his music often have deep theoretical structures and are almost visual in character, as might be expected from a composer of works titled Rothko Chapel, and Why Patterns?

Related composers: Cage, Wolpe

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