Classical Music | Piano Music

Morton Feldman

Piece for Four Pianos (1962)  Play

John Ferguson Piano
Jonathan Mann Piano
Rachel Iwaasa Piano
Gregory Powell Piano

Recorded on 08/03/1997, uploaded on 02/05/2010

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Morton Feldman studied with Wallingford Riegger and Stefan Wolpe in the 1940's, but his association in the 1950's with composers of indeterminate music (Cage, Wolff, Brown) and abstract expressionist painters (Pollock, Kline, De Kooning, Guston) in New York revolutionized his artistic development.  Feldman's music is typically characterized by soft dynamics and a sparsity and economy of expression inherited from Anton Webern.  This aesthetic is realized, throughout Feldman's career, in a variety of notational systems including graphic scores, traditional notation, and various experimental formats.  The work heard here uses a method of notation in which beats of unspecified length--qualified in both works by the general tempo indication "slow"--contain either notes, chords, or rests.  The sounds are occasionally decorated with grace notes or with the sympathetic resonances of held (silently depressed) notes.  Dynamic instructions are, respectively, "soft as possible" and "low with a minimum of attack." All performers play the same part, and each player individually decides the length of each beat, resulting in a sort of "phase music", like that developed by Steve Reich ten years later. 

         Unlike many composers of his generation, Feldman uses no "system" for pitch selection; his choice of materials is intuitive.  Attentive listening to Feldman's music reveals a skillful and eloquent sense of musical structure and timing; perhaps the most striking element of Piece for Four Pianos is its use of repetition within parts as well as among parts.  Numerous passages consist of harmonically static sections in which select chords and/or pitches are gently reiterated.  Feldman says, "the repeated notes...are where the mind rests on an image--the beginning of the piece is like a recognition, not a motif, and by virtue of the repetitions it conditions one to listen."