Here’s a post I wrote a year or so back for a Facebook group I’m in, with the idea of intro’ing some people to Feldman:
There is a particularly large amount of Feldman on youtube, generally good recordings to my ears too! So its fairly easy to investigate.
To celebrate (what would have been) Morton Feldman’s 90th birthday, here are a few thoughts and recommendations from me. I think Feldman must be one of my most listened to composers, partly because his music fits certain situations better than anything else (e.g. quiet, alone, late at night times), but also because he is wonderful. Also strange, and probably unique.
The first thing most people hear by Feldman is probably Rothko Chapel, which is a good shout. Short, and remarkably conventionally beautiful towards the end. Still very odd though, lots of space and very quiet percussion.
Also really short for Feldman, and one of my absolute favourites, is Coptic Light, for orchestra. This is like a cloud of fog, the massed instruments all hovering around a phrase as though they are trying and failing to make progress. Mmmmm.
In a similar vein is For Samuel Beckett, which is longer but has the same vibe of trying and failing to progress. A bit less ‘cloudy’ though Could my love of Samuel Beckett have had an impact on my love of Morton Feldman? Maybe. (for some reason video split into 3 parts) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J--sdXYik3Y
Feldman’s only opera also involved Beckett, using his fantastic short text Neither. It isn’t really a proper opera though. Read a great review that described parts of this as sounding like brass hammered flat. The soprano vocal makes it especially eerie.
Interestingly, the longer Feldman’s works get, the fewer players they seem to be for. All of the above are for reasonably large ensembles, but a lot of what he did was for quartets and trios. This solo piano piece is pretty special:
This cello + piano piece is curiously spiky. Does the classic Feldman thing of having each part doggedly repeat slight variations: at some parts here it sounds like the two instruments are stubbornly butting their heads together
The really, really long pieces, like the near-5 hour For Philip Guston, get pretty strange. Despite the massive duration, they are deliberately anti-epic, with 3 or 4 instruments playing softly all the way. The structure is without climaxes, without an obvious narrative. But they do an incredible job of holding the attention, in creating a unique space (and there tends to be a lot of space). Sometimes it becomes maddening, the refusal of the piece to break out of this constrained quietness and lack of drama. But that is all part of the fun, and these longer Feldman pieces have an effect like nothing else.
Loads more I could have recommended (and a lot of it is on youtube), but that’ll do for now. I think I just recommended over ten hours of music… Cheers.