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Morton Feldman

(1926 – 1987)

Morton Feldman was a U.S. composer. Born in New York City, Feldman began studying the piano with Vera Maurina-Press at the age of 12 (the work Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety was written in 1970 in her memory), and later studied composition and counterpoint with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan *Wolpe. With composers John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff and pianist David Tudor, he became part of an American avant-garde group interested in bringing to music the same aesthetic concepts of art and expression that had marked the abstract expressionist American painters (such as de Kooning and Pollock) of the early 1950s. His earliest works, Projections (1950–51), explored the field of indeterminacy in music and the use of graphic notation. Although Feldman later varied and combined his methods of notating works, he was always concerned with examining the extreme limits of slowness (in durations and tempi) and softness (of dynamic range) of which music is capable and with timbres created by non-traditional methods, e.g., piano sounds produced without traditional forms of attack. His output was large: many piano pieces for soloists and combinations of two and three pianos, notably Last Pieces; and orchestral and ensemble works – Numbers, for nine instruments; Atlantis (1958); Structures for Orchestra (1960–62); Out of Last Pieces; For Franz Kline, for soprano and four other players; Rabbi Akiba, for soprano and ten instruments; On Time and the Instrumental Factor, for small orchestra (1969); and the series of pieces for solo viola and various groupings of accompanying instruments entitled The Viola in My Life. He worked on films, and collaborated on the ballet Summerspace (1966) with choreographer Merce Cunningham and painter Robert Rauschenberg. In 1971 Feldman wrote Rothko Chapel for soloists, chorus, and instrumental ensemble, which was commissioned as a tribute to the painter, who had died a year before. Some of the composer's late works reflected his interest in the woven patterns in Anatolian rugs and in Jasper John's crosshatch paintings (Why Patterns, 1978, Crippled Symmetry, 1983). Coptic Light (1986), Feldman's last orchestral work, was inspired by the early Coptic textiles at the Louvre. Feldman defended his aesthetics in a number of essays (Essays, ed. W. Zimmermann, Kerpen, 1985).


NG2; MGG2; T. DeLio (ed.), The Music of Morton Feldman (1985).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.