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Last month I decided that it was time to play something from that early 20th century modern period. I chose Bartók’s “Fourteen bagatelles”, but just couldn’t make great progress: different music requires different kinds of mental energy. So a week or two ago I put the Bartók down and picked up Schubert.
In looking at Feldman’s piano music from the 1950s one thing I’ve noticed is that there are almost no pedal markings. I listened to Aki Takahashi’s recording of the first two Intermissions and Extensions 3 to hear how she did it.
I find that there’s a really sharp change in Morton Feldman’s work in 1957, with his Piece for 4 pianos. But what ties these worlds together is something that I think gets at the heart of Feldman’s work: a direct engagement with sound.
Both Morton Feldman and John Cage at various times remembered fondly the long talks they had together during the 1950s, soon after they met. What did they talk about? One topic may have been a spiritual one: seeking something beyond their own sense of self in their work, something larger.
I went to the Philadelphia Orchestra’s performance of Rite of Spring looking to recreate my youthful excitement about the work. Instead I found a circus.
Hearing Webern and Feldman next to each other is a real ear-opener. The other day I decided to explore this a little further. I listened to the Webern Symphony again, then to two Feldman pieces from the time of that famous concert walk-out: Projection 1 for cello (1950) and Structures for string quartet (1951).
I’m playing Federico Mompou’s Musica callada (“Silent music”) these days. The music is beautiful and strange. I was attracted to this music by its title, which immediately put me in mind of Cage’s string quartet.
“John Cage was a composer: this is the premise from which everything in this book follows.” Twenty years ago I opened my book on the music of John Cage with this strong statement. There were field marks by which I identified Cage as a composer, and I learned them by studying “the other subject” of my book.
The bilingual (Portuguese/English) arts magazine Cine Qua Non has just published their John Cage tribute issue. It includes my essay on John Cage and silence.
I’ve said that I’m more a storyteller than a musicologist. I was reminded of this while reading Kay Larson’s new book “Where the heart beats”. Our tellings of the story of Cage’s spiritual journey aren’t that far apart.