Saturday, June 17, 2006


I took an elective music class in college, which intorduced me to John Cage, the avant-garde composer of the last era. I’m sure many people have been as blown away as I was by, among his many strange works, the provocative and legendary silent piece, 4’33”, which pushes the envelope, forcing the audience to reexamine the very definition of music. Check it out here:

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Alex Ross writes brilliantly about Morton Feldman, who was, not only a fast friend of John Cage but, was also one of the major 20th century composers (Ross describes him as“…a hard-core avant-gardist to the end”).You can read the article here:

Ross writes of Feldman:

The often noted paradox is that this immense, verbose man wrote music that seldom rose above a whisper. In the noisiest century in history, Feldman chose to be glacially slow and snowily soft. Chords arrive one after another, in seemingly haphazard sequence, interspersed with silences. Harmonies hover in a no man’s land between consonance and dissonance, paradise and oblivion. Rhythms are irregular and overlapping, so that the music floats above the beat. Simple figures repeat for a long time, then disappear…Certain later works unfold over extraordinarily lengthy spans of time, straining the capabilities of performers to play them and the audiences to hear them…

Naturally, I downloaded some of Feldman’s compositions—“Three Clarinets, Cello, and Piano,” “Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety,” and “The King of Denmark”—and they are uncanny and bizarre, vast yet spare and hauntingly beautiful. Like Ross says, for Feldman “The sounds animate the surrounding silence” and that with the composer’s works “we are in the region of Wallace Stevens’s ‘American Sublime,’ of the ‘empty spirit/In vacant space.'

If you are at all interested, click here for a few samplings of Feldman’s works:

No comments: