Morton Feldman

Profile

Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was a leading American composer, who is regarded as one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. Feldman studied composition with Schönberg disciple Wallingford Riegger and former Webern student Stefan Wolpe; but the decisive encounter in his musical life was with John Cage, who encouraged him to break away from old compositional models, such as traditional harmony and serial techniques. Feldman is often associated with the experimental New York School, along with Cage, Christian Wolff and Earle Brown. In the 1950’s Feldman experimented with graphic notation and freedoms for the performers. From the 1970’s he used conventional notation. Through Cage, Feldman met various other prominent figures from the New York art scene, including visual artists Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Robert Rauschenberg, the composers Henry Cowell, Virgil Thomson and George Antheil and the writer Frank O’Hara. Feldman was especially inspired by the works of the abstractexpressionist painters. He expressed his indebtedness with titles such as Rothko Chapel (1971) and For Frank O’Hara (1973). In 1977 he wrote the opera Neither, set to a text by Samuel Beckett. Until 1973 Feldman worked as a composer as well as holding a full time job in his family’s textile business. That year he started lecturing in composition at the State University of New York in Buffalo, a position he held until his death. Especially his later chamber music, from 1977, tends to be soft, slow and intimate. These works are often extremely long. For Philip Guston (1984), for instance, is 4 hours long; his Second String Quartet (1983) measures 6 hours. Shortly after his marriage to the Canadian composer Barbara Monk, Feldman died of pancreatic cancer.