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Morton Feldman
Two Pianos and Other Pieces, 1953–1969 (2CD, 2014)

Morton Feldman — Two Pianos and Other Pieces, 1953–1969 (2CD, 2014)

Morton Feldman — Two Pianos and Other Pieces, 1953–1969 (2CD, 2014)
Transcendently beautiful.
Prize: €26.90
φ   American composer of quietly textured music, sometimes of extreme length, with notable works including Viola in My Life and Rothko Chapel.
φ   A double CD of music for multiple pianos from what is arguably the most experimental and interesting period of Morton Feldman’s development as a composer.  Some of the pieces have been very rarely performed or recorded, and have probably never been in better hands.
φ   John Tilbury, Philip Thomas, Catherine Laws & Mark Knoop — pianos
φ   Anton Lukoszevieze & Seth Woods — cellos
φ   Mira Benjamin & Linda Jankowska — violins
φ   Rodrigo Constanzo & Taneli Clarke — percussion
φ   Barrie Webb — trombone
φ   Naomi Atherton — horn
Born/Died: January 12, 1926 — September 3, 1987)
Album release: 2014
Record Label: Another Timbre
Duration: xx
Disc One:
1. Two Pianos (1957)         10:00                      
   John Tilbury & PhilipThomas, pianos
2. Four Instruments (1965)       11:58
   John Tilbury piano, Anton Lukoszevieze cello, Mira Benjamin violin,
    Rodrigo Constanzo chimes
3. Vertical Thoughts 1 (1963)      7:58
    John Tilbury & Philip Thomas, pianos
4. Between Categories  (1969)       11:44
   John Tilbury & Philip Thomas pianos, Anton Lukoszevieze & Seth Woods cellos,
    Mira Benjamin & Linda Jankowska violins, Rodrigo Constanzo & Taneli Clarke chimes
5. Piece for Four Pianos   (1957)        14:37
    John Tilbury, Philip Thomas, Catherine Laws & Mark Knoop, pianos
6. Piano Four Hands  (1958)        7:43
    John Tilbury & Philip Thomas  piano
Disc Two:
1. Intermission 6  (1953)         3:05
   John Tilbury & Philip Thomas, pianos
2. De Kooning  (1963)         12:51
   Philip Thomas  piano and celesta,  Anton Lukoszevieze  cello,  Mira Benjamin     violin, Taneli Clarke  percussion, Naomi Atherton  horn
3 — 4.  Two Pieces for Three Pianos  (1966)        17:56
   John Tilbury, Philip Thomas and Catherine Laws, pianos
5. Piano Three Hands   (1957)         11:06
    John Tilbury & Philip Thomas  piano
6. False Relationships and the Extended Ending  (1968)         16:25    
   John Tilbury, Philip Thomas, Catherine Laws pianos, Anton Lukoszevieze cello     Mira Benjamin violin, Rodrigo Constanzo chimes, & Barrie Webb   trombone
7. Two Pianos  second version  (1957)        9:23
    John Tilbury & Philip Thomas,  pianos
φ   "A double cd of music for multiple pianos from what is arguably the most experimental and interesting period of morton feldman's development as a composer. some of the pieces have been very rarely performed or recorded, and have probably never been in better hands. john tilbury, philip thomas, catherine laws & mark knoop, pianos. anton lukoszevieze & seth woods, cellos. mira benjamin & linda jankowska, violins. rodrigo constanzo & taneli clarke, percussion. barrie webb, trombone. naomi atherton, horn.'two pianos (1957). 'four instruments' (1965). 'vertical thoughts 1' (1963), 'between categories' (1969), 'piece for four pianos' (1957). 'piano four hands' (1958). 'intermission 6' (1953), 'de kooning' (1963), 'two pieces for three pianos' (1966), 'piano three hands' (1957), 'false relationships and the extended ending' (1968), 'two pianos second version' (1957). notes on morton feldman's 'two pianos and other pieces' by philip thomas." (label info)
Andrew Clements
φ   Wednesday 3 December 2014 15.30 GMT; Score: *****
φ   Though the last 10 years has seen a steady flow of new recordings of Morton Feldman’s music, those have tended to concentrate on the remarkable series of works from the final decade of the composer’s life. But how his music achieved the refinement and clarity of those often greatly extended late pieces has been less thoroughly explored.
φ   This entrancing and consistent collection, mostly made up of works for one or more pianos, but also including chamber pieces involving other instruments — strings, percussion, brass — focuses on Feldman’s music of the 50s and 60s; the earliest piece here is Intermission 6 for one or two pianos, from 1953, the latest is Between Categories, for two ensembles, from 1969. All 12 works demonstrate, as the pianist Philip Thomas points out in his superbly thorough commentary, “the intensity of Feldman’s experimentation with notation and sound” during that period. “Considering the works chronologically,” Thomas says, “one senses the composer trying out, teasing and developing means of notation to get close to his desired elasticity of time and duration.”
φ   In all of these works, the pitches are precisely specified in the score; none of Feldman’s 50s forays into total indeterminacy and purely graphic notation are included. But the performers are given a great deal of freedom in deciding how long individual sounds last, how they decay and how they are co–ordinated between performers. There is a huge range of ways in which Feldman lays out his scores, and in what he expects of his performers, as if testing these different notations to destruction; in the works that came afterwards, from the early 70s onwards, he would return to much more conventional methods.
φ   What is so remarkable about the music here, however it is assembled and put down on paper, is how transcendently beautiful so much of it is, its composer unmistakable. As in the later, better known works, every pitch, every chord seems precious. Every hint of rhetoric is a seismic event, even when the dynamic range is so deliberately confined — “The music is intended to be quiet and is best played at a low volume,” says a note on the sleeve. Every one of these exemplary performances, with John Tilbury and Thomas leading the way, seems to be totally immersed in this very special expressive world: one of the most extraordinary of any composer’s in the second half of the 20th century. :: http://www.theguardian.com/
Label: http://www.anothertimbre.com/feldmanpiano.html(2CD)
φ   Notes on Morton Feldman’s ‘Two Pianos and other pieces’ by Philip Thomas
The music featured on these two discs testifies to the intensity of Feldman’s experimentation with notation and sound during the 1950s and 60s. Considering the works chronologically one senses the composer trying out, teasing and developing means of notation to get close to his desired elasticity of time and duration. His experiments with indeterminacy of pitch — whereby Feldman specified only the register (high, middle, low) of sound rather than the exact notes themselves — do not feature here; after trying this method in a series of works in the early 1950s he abandoned the technique, with a few notable exceptions straying into the 1960s, because he was too ‘attached’ to the pitches he wanted.
φ   All notes are specified exactly in the pieces on these discs — the experiments are instead with duration and time. Durations of sounds are variously free, dependent upon the decay of the sound, worked out in coordination with other players, as well as at times exactly and complexly notated within a specific tempo. Sometimes the freedoms of notating time are worked through in combination with listening closely to the sounds of other players, allowing patterns to emerge without forcing the situation, whilst at other times different ways of notating time are combined, creating false alignments in the score and thus placing greater emphasis upon the individual performer’s journey.
φ   The piano is an inherently indeterminate instrument — any given note will have a very different afterlife dependent upon the touch of the performer, the register of the note, the type and size of the piano, the acoustic of the space in which the piano is situated, and so forth. Put six or seven of these notes together as a chord and the situation becomes complex. In all these pieces Feldman specifies the dynamics to be quiet, or as quiet as possible, or very quiet. However the notion that Feldman’s music is ‘about’ quiet–ness is a misconception: the subject is sound, and in order for that subject to be properly attended to those sounds are quiet. The range of pieces presented here depict very many different types of quietness — from the delicate sounds of Piano Three Hands and Piano Four Hands to the massed complexities of Two Pieces for Three Pianos. Quietness in Feldman’s piano music is a performance instruction which is everything to do with touch and the desire to really hear the instrument. As such these recordings are a celebration of the piano (its tone and its decay) and piano playing, for all its frustrations and challenges — an instrument which is at the heart of Feldman’s music.
φ   The earliest work recorded here is Intermission 6 (1953), for one or two pianos. The score consists of a single page of music across which are scattered fragments: single notes, chords, the occasional ‘grace’ note, using the range of the keyboard, all redolent of Feldman’s harmonic and pitch sensibility. The performers move through these in any order, a rare freedom within Feldman’s music, and one which he was not to make use of again.
φ   Piece for 4 pianos (1957) introduces a notational and formal procedure which proved to be considerably more fruitful, influencing works composed even twenty years later. All four pianists read from the same single page of score but move through it at their own pace. Thus the sequence of sounds remains constant but the duration of each sound is entirely free (within the parameter of ‘slow’). The resultant shimmering effect, as the four pianists variously play the same chord, sometimes with reiterations, pre–empts aspects of later minimalism, and indeed the performance process is not entirely dissimilar from that of Terry Riley’s In C composed a mere seven years later.
φ   Two Pianos (1957) and Piano Four Hands (1958) were composed within eighteen months of Piece for 4 pianos. The former follows exactly the same procedure as Piece for 4 pianos whilst Piano Four Hands assigns different material to each pianist, but maintains the principle of moving through the material independently. Piano Three Hands, also composed in 1957, is distinct, consisting of regular, albeit slow, moving events, recalling an earlier work for solo piano, Piano Piece 1952.
φ   A group of five works, each with the title Durations, composed during 1960–61, explore this compositional device further and to great effect. Yet at the same time Feldman was exploring other ways of dealing with duration and time, perhaps the result of unsatisfactory performances of these other works. In solo works he investigated options for making use of stemless noteheads, combined with pauses, to obtain a music free of metred time, though in some works combining this technique with more strictly notated music, as if to compare resultant performances of both notations.
φ   In ensemble works he combined the stemless noteheads with a means of notating sequences of sounds in relation to other instruments, so that the end of one instrument’s sound cues the beginning of another instrument’s sound. It is quite possible that Feldman was in this way influenced by the new ‘cue–ing’ notations of his friend Christian Wolff, in pieces such as Duet II (1961) and For Five or Ten People (1962). Works featured on these recordings notated in this way are De Kooning (1963), Vertical Thoughts I (1963) and Four Instruments (1965), each of which are characterised by a sparseness of sound due to the predominance of sounds played in sequence rather than as vertical masses.
φ   Two Pieces for Three Pianos (1966) is a transitional and quite remarkable work. φ   The first piece combines two different notation types: the first and second pianos read only stemless noteheads, with the instruction to play each event once the decay of the previous event has begun; the third piano part is fully notated with very precise durations, metre and ever–changing tempi. Each player follows their own part dogmatically — there is very little room for listening and responding to the other players. The texture is extremely dense, consisting of predominantly thick chromatic chords in all three pianos which gradually thin out toward the end of the piece. There is no coordination and the piece thus ends sparsely as the pianos ‘drop out’ and the first two pianists play high and delicate events. The second piece is more coordinated, mostly using the form of notation and sequence used in Vertical Thoughts I, combining stemless noteheads with occasional metred and rhythmically precise notation.
φ   False Relationships and the Extended Ending (1968) and Between Categories (1969) are perhaps the two most extraordinary works featured here if considering the notational characteristics alone. Feldman divides the ensemble into two smaller ensembles: violin/trombone/piano and cello/chimes/2 pianos (toward the end subdivided further as chimes/piano and cello/piano) in False Relationships…; and two equal ensembles of violin/cello/chimes/piano in Between Categories. The two ensembles in both pieces follow a mixture of notations, variously strictly notated, with changing tempi, and stemless noteheads, played in sequence and as simultaneities. φ   Whilst the ensembles are notated synchronously on the page, one above the other, at any point in time one ensemble may actually be reading from one, two or possibly three pages apart from the other. Even when both ensembles look on the page as if they are notated similarly, with matching bar lines, on closer look the reader will notice that the time signatures and tempi markings of one ensemble are entirely different from the other. It is as if Feldman is playing some kind of visual game which bears no relation to the aural result. However, the music is very carefully thought out, and where one ensemble appears to be significantly adrift from the other in terms of the notated score, it is more than likely that the gap will close at some later point and the ensembles become more aligned aurally. Whilst none of this is apparent to the listener, at the same time it is clear that there are some very definite periods of harmonic synchronicity, and other times where the ensembles feel to be quite separate. Likewise, certain ideas and pitches are tossed between ensembles, giving the impression of precisely coordinated events when in actuality the detail of such imitative patterns is the result of performance–based chance, albeit one which occurs within a meticulously planned framework.
φ   Feldman was not to return to these techniques. The works which followed, in the early 1970s, are more traditionally and simply notated, serving different compositional aims and agendas. The complexity of these late 1960s works is echoed in the extraordinary and bafflingly notated works of the late 1970s and early 1980s. φ   Feldman’s experiments with notation, decay, duration and ensemble continued until the end of his life, but always with an attentive ear and technical mastery which heightens the ungraspable and transitory qualities of sound.
φ   Philip Thomas, October 2014

Morton Feldman
Two Pianos and Other Pieces, 1953–1969 (2CD, 2014)




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