Aspects of Time in the Later Music of Morton Feldman

Edward Jurkowski


During the 1960s, Morton Feldman abandoned the elements of indeterminacy that had characterized his scores since the early 1950s and instead began a remarkable compositional journey in which he relied on his intuition and acute sense of orchestration to create works of ferocious difficulty in which every note and rhythm was notated to formidable precision. Concomitantly, Feldman’s composition also became increasingly greater in duration—although given Feldman’s life-long predilection for painting, it is perhaps more appropriate to speak of his works in terms of space rather than duration.

While it has been frequently acknowledged that Feldman’s passion towards Turkish rugs played a vital role in how these expansive compositions from his last decade are structured, in this paper I argue that their design may be more profitably explained by studying the composer’s deeper appreciation of the large canvases of such painters as Philip Guston and Mark Rothko. For instance, uncovering Feldman’s relationship with these New York-based painters proves valuable to not only comprehend his frequent use of the term “scale” to describe the form and length of these expanded musical compositions (an obviously problematic expression, given its association to portray the visual instead of the temporal art of music), but also the rationale behind his conscious attempt to disorient memory in his late works, an attribute that directs to what is Feldman’s crowning compositional achievement—namely, a innovative means to experience musical time.

© Musicological Explorations, School of Music, University of Victoria

ISSN 1711-9235