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Sabine Liebner Morton Feldman: For Bunita Marcus · Palais de Mari OC 594 2 CD
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Format2 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 594
Release date01/10/2007
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Feldman, Morton

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      Description hide

      Fono Forum awarded Sabine Liebner’s first recording of Feldman with five stars (Triadic Memories, OC 510). “Sabine Liebner’s outstanding qualities as an interpreter can be seen first and foremost in her ability to maintain the inner tension of the music, while simultaneously creating a sense of transformed repose,” judged Klassik heute. Her intimate connection with Feldman’s sound universe and music philosophy is also apparent in her new recording. Very few interpreters succeed as convincingly as Liebner – who has extensive experience in performing Feldman’s works live – in maintaining the requisite concentration over such long periods and bringing the listener into completely other perceptions of time. Feldman himself did not consider his works to be too long; “Most of them are even too short. I feel that pieces have a natural length, in order that they can live out their lives.” (Feldman in his Middelburg Lecture).

      The closed in the open: Morton Feldman’s late works

      “At the beginning I have nothing; at the end, everything.” If this is true, the quiet tones which begin and end For Bunita Marcus( 1985) and Palais de Mari (1986) are everything and nothing. But with this statement from the legendary “Middleburg Lecture”, held July 2, 1985 in the eponymous Dutch city for a number of musicology students some two years before the composer’s death, which we will cite later as well, Feldman means something slightly different. In fact, these few words of the Jewish-American composer reveal the innermost secret of his late period, which began in 1984 and which includes the works For Bunita Marcus and Palais de Mari (both were written for the composer BunitaMarcus (born 1952), with whom Feldman had a close friendship).

      Although Feldman returned to the use of conventional notation at the beginning of the 1970s, and although the works he wrote between 1977 and 1983 were characterized by highly contrasting material as well as great length, as of 1984 he reduced the material density to very few, very small germ cells spread over long periods of time. “When I use something as a motive, I don’t vary its continuity,” Feldman explains in his “Middleburg Lecture”. “I simply present it differently, as a different type of light; I change nothing.” The smallest germ-cells are the ‘nothing’ of the beginning. “Do you know when I really get lost?” he asked the somewhat baffled students. “When I don’t start with nothing.”

      This ‘beginning with nothing’ already points to the reduction of the material. As was so frequent, Morton Feldman found many parallels in painting, specifically with the Dutch abstract-constructivist Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944), who had an “immense influence” on him. “I also start in a reductive manner, and from that reduction I construct a language, instead of reducing a language, as Picasso did.” But what does Feldman’s music want to convey, if it is a language? The answer is hidden behind another question: does Feldman really end up with everything? The answer is no, if we are talking about a goal that must be achieved. It was not his aim to get from A to B – “because I don’t concern myself with music that seems to follow musical logic.” And further: “For me, all music that has a concept of a beginning, middle and end is in the final analysis, identical, becausein this type of construction, one must go through a prescribed series of steps.”

      Morton Feldman is a seeker. He wishes to get as deeply into the sound as possible – a trait he shares with his model Edgar Varèse (1883-1965). As stylistically and musically different as Feldman and Varèse are, both are fundamentally interested in the sound of the composition – not in formal questions. “One of the biggest problems in my music is that I proceed step by step and find the lost chords,” Feldman stressed at the “Middleburg Lecture”. With this, he gave away certainly the biggest secretof his late works, which is simultaneously the reason why his music – in all its simplicity and reduction – seems so abundant and touches us with such immediacy. He searches not only for sound, but at the same time for harmony.

      “I constantly grapple with harmony. Not only with its function, but with the fact that it has gotten lost.” This is the position that separated him from other western composers – even from his so esteemed fellow composer John Cage (1912 – 1992): “If he believes that harmony is dead and that one cannot have harmonic rhythm without using functional harmony, then I think that this is very naïve. Everyone believed this, which is why they turned again to polyphony.” Feldman then becomes even more emphatic, making no effort to conceal the fact that he repudiates every type of school or dogma for himself: “Polyphony got rid of the notes, serial music got rid of the notes – as for me, I must constantly confront the notes. This is the only difference. I do not want to get rid of the notes in order to sit back comfortably and consider myself educated.”

      This step-by-step process of feeling one’s way into the world of sound and harmony, of dissonance and consonance – with no formal plan – is the reason why Morton Feldman’s late works do not sound as if they are final. The endings of his works seem open, almost like compromises: “one should keep a path open, a littlebit open.” And this leads to stillness, another essential element of his late works: “I believe that an important aspect of my music, my breath, my space is that I do not think about stillness itself.” For Morton Feldman, tranquility is a completely natural part of his music – but not of the rhythm: “I use meter as a construct – not rhythm, but meter and time: the length of time that something takes.”

      Actually, his pieces are not long, “most are even too short. I feel that pieces have a natural length, in order that they can live out their lives. The more we jump into modern life, the less patience we have” – something that is even truer today. Those who involve themselves with Feldman’s music and listen attentively to it are richly rewarded. Hardly any other tonal language manages to express so much with so little material, without becoming garrulous. And just as life constantly changes, the smallest musical germ cells in Feldman’s works never repeat, but evolve. In the end, Feldman’s music does contain everything, namely: the closed openness that reflects life.

      Marco Frei
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      hide CD 1
      • 1.For Bunita Marcus, beginning63:37
      • Total:01:03:37
      more CD 2
      • 1.For Bunita Marcus, conclusion24:31
      • 2.Palais de Mari26:22
      • Total:50:53