Morton Feldman - Piano & Orchestra (1/2)





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Published on Jul 25, 2011

Piano and Orchestra, for piano & orchestra (1975)

Alan Feinberg, piano

New World Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas

Morton Feldman wrote Piano and Orchestra in 1975 for Australian pianist Roger Woodward. Though he is a musician of seemingly limitless technique, it is not on display in this work. Piano and orchestra is not a concerto-style work. There is no direct dialogue between the soloist and orchestra; they simply coexist in an abstract expressionist soundscape free of conventional musical narrative or fireworks. This work is part of a series of works that Feldman began in 1972, featuring works wherein the soloist and orchestra do not dialogue with one another, and there is no foreground/background dynamic between them. Instead, there are two plains of sound happening concurrently. One is the soloist, who retains a consistent tone-color, and the other is the orchestra, which emotes a consistently changing sound palate. These two components are in separate rhythmic patterns, creating a collective polyrhythm. The tempo is slow, the dynamic is consistently quiet, and the piece is slightly less than twenty-seven minutes in duration. Not much happens, in fact, the work is eventless, which may confound listeners who are being introduced to the music of Feldman for the first time. The reason for this music's lack of occurrences is bound up in the artistic approach Feldman had adopted from New York's abstract expressionist movement. In the early 1950s, the young composer met John Cage, who in turn introduced him the city's avant-garde scene. There he met many of the great American painters just as they were starting out. Feldman had a sensitive eye for a young man, alert enough to recognize the importance of Rauschenberg before the public or critics did, and even bought a painting of his for less than thirty dollars. Among all the talent of this circle, the composer formed a special friendship with Montreal-born abstract expressionist Philip Guston, and the two formed a kind of aesthetic allegiance that translated perfectly from painting to music.

Abstract expressionism is an evolution from expressionism, which intended to depict the inner workings of the subconscious. Whether it was pretty or horrible did not matter, as long as an authentic and resonant representation of humanity's collective secrets of the heart and mind were truthfully rendered. The turmoil of conflicting appetites did not concern expressionism's successor, abstract expressionism. It was less scientific than mystic, relating the aesthetic experience to the religious experience. Guston believed that people all had a spiritual space within themselves, a soul, that few people understand, recognize, or appreciate. It is an interior world wherein people can have life-affirming experiences that energize and sensitize those with an open heart. The artworks which demonstrate this premise show the artist's expression of this state, and when successful, reveal to the viewer or listener that same world that exists within them. This is what a work such as Piano and Orchestra offers. Nothing is going on, but the sounds are gorgeous, firing the imagination. The music is very spare, but when something occurs, the sensuousness of the tones is breathtaking. As well, it is music that does not require that the listener use memory to make sense of the work. The idea is to enjoy the sound, enjoy the subtlety of the overall tone happening at the moment. No melody is issued and then developed; no polyphony is later repeated in its inversion. Feldman's music, like the abstract expressionist painters, does away with what their mediums had worked with as far back as art historians can look. Piano and Orchestra is indicative of one of the most radical artistic developments in the history of Western culture, and it is also sublime. [allmusic.com]

Art by Emma Kunz

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