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Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman (born January 12, 1926, died September 3, 1987) was an American composer. He is best known for his mature instrumental pieces which are frequently written for unusual groups of instruments, are very long and predominently quiet.

Feldman was born in New York City. He studied piano with Madame Maurina-Press, a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni, and later composition with Wallingford Riegger[?] and Stefan Wolpe. He did not agree with many of the views of these composition teachers, and he spent much of his time simply arguing with them. Feldman was composing at this time, but in a style very different to that he would later be associated with.

In 1950, Feldman went to hear the New York Philharmonic give a performance of Anton Webern's Symphony. At the concert, he met John Cage, and the two became good friends. Under Cage's influence, Feldman began to write pieces which had no relation to compositional systems of the past, such as the constraints of traditional harmony or the serial technique. He experimented with non-standard systems of musical notation, often using grids in his scores, and specifying how many notes should be played at a certain time, but not which ones. Feldman's experiments with the use of chance in his composition in turn inspired John Cage to write pieces like the Music of Changes[?], where the notes to be played are determined by consulting the I Ching.

Through Cage, Feldman met many other prominent figures in the New York arts scene, among them Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston[?] and Frank O'Hara[?]. He found inspiration in the paintings of the abstract expressionists, and began to write the longer pieces for which he is now best known. Typically, these pieces do not change in mood throughout and tend to be made up of mostly very quiet sounds. Feldman said himself that quiet sounds had begun to be the only ones that interested him. These compositions are often in one continuous piece, rather than divided into several movements, and are rarely shorter than half an hour in length, many of them being much longer. The String Quartet II, for example, is over five hours long, without a break. It has still never been performed in its entirety, although a recording of it was recently made.

Feldman married the composer Barbara Monk[?] shortly before his death in 1987 at his home in Buffalo, New York.



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