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So in the spirit of this months quiet music theme I thought I would write a bit about one of my favorite pieces by Morton Feldman. Although Feldman later became known for his epic long pieces this work is one of his shortest.


itunes link:


Madame Press Died Last Night At Ninety


The piece really sums up a lot of what I think Feldman was trying to express when he said to John Cage in their 1966 "Radio Happenings series" that he wanted to write a piece for piano that used only one finger. The interval of a major third is used in almost every phrase of the piece leaving it to the rest of the orchestration to cast that interval in a new light every few bars. It is this method of using material in such a rigorously restricted way in order to create and discover each piece's aural language that Feldman often explores in his work. 


The piece also really exemplifies more generally what I love so much about Feldmans work; the focused pacing, the intricately detailed orchestration (check out those subtle tubular bells in the background), interesting instrumentation, and the wonderful feeling of stillness while still maintaining a constant sense of movement. I find it so impressive how Feldman can write something that is so meticulously rhythmic in its notation yet when when listened to almost sounds rubato. 


 



(image of early piano piece - "Intermissions" copyright C. Peters Corporation)


 


I don't actually know much about the story behind "Madame Press Died Last Night at Ninety"; what I have read though is that Madame Press was Feldman's childhood piano teacher. If anyone knows more about this piece I would love to hear it!


A quick and dense arpeggio from the celeste bookends the piece, perhaps a reference to the way we all enter and leave this world. 


 


Christopher.


 






 

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