*Collected Writings of Morton Feldman*

Feldman probably was the most important American composer of his generation, he interacted with the leading NYC painters of his time, and it turns out he is a splendid writer as well.  His observations are to the point, often with a Nassim Taleb kind of sting.  Here is one bit:

Recently in the Sunday papers an article about Messiaen appeared in which a great virtue was made of his political “disengagement.”  Reading this article, we learn how deeply religious this composer is, how much he looks forward to his vacations in Switzerland, how proud he is of Boulez, and how involved he is with bird calls.  Can we say man is really disengaged?  His chief occupation seems to be this disengagement.  There is something curiously official in the way his interests and views are described — as though nothing could now disturb all this.

Or:

But he has nothing to worry about, that chap in Tempo.  He’s going to have it all.  Pitch relationships, plus sound and chance thrown in.  Total consolidation.  Those two words define the new academy.  You can tie it all up in the well-known formula, “You made a small circle and excluded me; I made a bigger circle and included you.”  A kind of Jonah-and-the-whale syndrome is taking place.  Everything is being chewed up en masse and for the mass…

It may seem strange to call Boulez and Stockhausen popularizers, but that’s what they are.  They glamorized Schoenberg and Webern, now they’re glamorizing something else.  But chance to them is just another procedure, another vehicle for new aspects of structure or of sonority independent of pitch organization.  They could have gotten these things from Ives or Varèse, but they went to these men with too deep  prejudice, the prejudice of the equal, the colleague.

More books should have sentences like: “[Virgil] Thomson disliked me on sight, as a youth, and it’s never changed.”

The full title is Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman,” edited by B.H. Friedman.

I think Feldman two greatest works are For John Cage, and also String Quartet #2, which is about five hours long.  This year I have been listening to the Philip Thomas 5-CD set of Feldman’s piano music more than just about any other CD.  It is not the very best Feldman, but it is some of the best Feldman to listen to, if only because the pieces typically are shorter.

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