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I’ve been thinking about David Tudor and John Cage a good deal lately, following some hunches to develop what I think is a useful way of looking at their history in the 1960s. I don’t know that I’m completely convinced of my story line here, but it’s intriguing.
I don’t usually talk or write much about my non-musical writing. One reason for this is that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I write what I call “non-nonfiction” (is it fiction? poetry? I have no idea). That world has become more important to me over the past few years, however, and thought I’d say a little bit about it and about a new piece titled “From a fairy tale.”
This week’s mail brought the new recording of John Cage’s “The ten thousand things” from MicroFest Records, and a beautiful thing it is.
A passage from Beethoven’s Op. 90 reminds me of Morton Feldman: it makes me aware of two different worlds that a piece of music can reveal to us.
It is becoming my summer tradition to learn something fun at the piano. Last summer, it was the Chopin Barcarolle; this summer, it was Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse.
I’ve been reading Irving Sandler’s book on the Abstract Expressionist painters, The triumph of American painting. I picked this book up also because I wanted to study how someone writes about that art. I’ve gotten other things from my reading, too, and it makes me think about why we write about art and music, the relationship between artist, writer, and audience.
I’ve often made the statement that art is an act of faith. I think that my “act of faith” is the same as what Morton Feldman called “nerve”, an inner strength born out of a connection with inner necessity. I bring this subject up because I just recently listened again to Morton Feldman’s opera Neither, and was struck by what a colossal display of nerve that work is.
I recently listened to all five hours of the Cage/Feldman Radio happenings of 1966–67. Hearing them in conversation, I get a feel for a friendship and a collegiality that is more subtle than is usually described.
The metaphor of opening doors into hidden worlds is powerful for me. I think of any writing project as starting when I find a door that opens into the world of whatever it is that I’m writing about. I’m often intimidated by my new project on Morton Feldman’s music, but I am also beginning to sense that there are doors to try.
All composers endure bad performances of their music. It’s always demoralizing and undermines self-confidence. Some solace can be taken in the knowledge that this experience is universal: it happens to all composers, the famous and the obscure, and at all points in their careers. This point was driven home to me recently when I discovered John Cage, in conversation with Morton Feldman, describing the impact of a bad performance of his Concerto for prepared piano.