Morton Feldman Appreciation at ArtsJournal

Arts Journal, one of the best art news sites on the web, started a group of weblogs a few months ago. My two favorites are by Kyle Gann and Greg Sandow, both on classical music. Gann, especially, targets my favorite era of classical music, the twentieth century. He also writes interesting reviews for the Village Voice.

His recent entry on Morton Feldman will give you a sense of Gann’s work and the appeal of Feldman.

Just in case you’ve missed out on the last 25 years of contemporary music - and I could hardly blame you, so little attention is drawn to it - Morton Feldman was the greatest composer of the late 20th century. Or at least he looks that way. More significant than the accuracy or prematurity of the assessment is the fact that a remarkable percentage of young composers would concur with it. In the current Babel of musical styles, Feldman is almost the only composer (another might be Nancarrow, whose mechanical methods of writing for player piano, however, have not been as widely assimilated) whose music appeals across stylistic boundaries, among minimalists, postserialists, 12-tone holdouts, electronic composers, academics, Downtowners, MAX programmers, DJ artists, and other miscellaneous wastrels. His cross-cultural appeal comes from the fact that he created a postmodern sense of form - long, slow musical continua played in uniformly quiet dynamics - while holding onto the basic modernist pitch vocabulary of dissonant intervals. In other words, he deftly sidestepped the crisis of ever-increasing modernist complexity without giving in to what was seen as the vapid anti-intellectualism of minimalist consonance and tonality. Even more than that, by writing in his late years works of a continuous 90 minutes, three hours, four hours, even six hours in length, he reclaimed for the disspirited modern composer a sustainable measure of magnificent ambition, a pride in occupying an audience’s time. Quietly but vehemently he asserted for all of us that new music is worth sitting still for, practicalities be damned. In addition to which, as his friend John Cage said, his music is “almost too beautiful.”

Greg Sandow points to another interesting site for new American music. NewMusicBox