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Morton Feldman



Morton Feldman was born in New York on January 12, 1926. Music became a part of his life at an early age. As a twelve-year-old, he studied piano with Madame Maurina-Press and began to write his own compositions. In 1949, Feldman met John Cage and developed an artistic association crucial to music in America in the 1950s. Cage encouraged Feldman to trust his instincts, advice which helped free Feldman to create his totally intuitive compositions. He has never used any formalized systems, working instead from moment to moment, from one sound to the next.

Feldman surrounded himself with creative geniuses. His friends in 1950s New York included composers Earle Brown and Christian Wolff; painters Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg; and pianist David Tudor. The painters in particular influenced Feldman to search for his own sound world, one that was more immediate and more physical than any Feldman had explored before. Feldman developed a graph notation form of music which relied heavily on player improvisation. Though he returned to precise notation in 1969, he remains notorious for his extremely long, indeterminate works.

"Only" and "Voice, Violin, and Piano" come from New Albion's Only -- Works for Voice and Instruments. "Only" features a gorgeous soprano solo by Joan La Barbara. La Barbara, both a friend and student of Feldman, first performed the piece at a memorial concert given for Feldman after his death in 1987. While the initial publishing date of the uncharacteristically short piece was listed as 1976, La Barbara learned that "Only" was actually written in 1947, when Feldman was only 21 years old. "Voice, Violin, and Piano" is characteristic of Feldman's body of work -- timbral changes shift subtly, precisely notated and articulated by silences, lending a sense of beauty and mystery to the work.