See his collected writings (ed. by B. H. Friedman, 2001) and Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964-1987 (ed. by C. Villars, 2006); T. Delio, ed., The Music of Morton Feldman (1996); S. Johnson, ed., The New York Schools of Music and the Visual Arts (2001).
A major figure in 20th-century music, Feldman went through several compositional phases. He was a pioneer in aleatoric music and indeterminate music, and in music requiring improvisation. His works are characterized by quietness, slowness, and often by their extreme length, especially in his later music.
In 1950, Feldman went to hear the New York Philharmonic give a performance of Anton Webern's Symphony. At the concert, he met John Cage. The two became good friends, with Feldman moving into the apartment downstairs from Cage. Under Cage's influence, Feldman began to write pieces which had no relation to compositional systems of the past, such as the constraints of traditional harmony or the serial technique. He experimented with non-standard systems of musical notation, often using grids in his scores, and specifying how many notes should be played at a certain time, but not which ones. Feldman's experiments with the use of chance in his composition in turn inspired John Cage to write pieces like the Music of Changes, where the notes to be played are determined by consulting the I Ching.
Through Cage, Feldman met many other prominent figures in the New York arts scene, among them Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Frank O'Hara. He found inspiration in the paintings of the abstract expressionists, and throughout the 1970s wrote a number of pieces around twenty-minutes in length, including Rothko Chapel (1971, written for the building of the same name which houses paintings by Mark Rothko) and For Frank O'Hara (1973). In 1977, he wrote the opera Neither with words by Samuel Beckett.
In 1973, at the age of 47, Feldman became the Edgard Varese Professor (a title of his own devising) at the University at Buffalo. Prior to that time, Feldman had earned his living as a full time employee at the family textile business in New York's garment district.
Later, he began to produce his very long works, often in one continuous movement, rarely shorter than half an hour in length and often much longer. These works include Violin and String Quartet (1985, around 2 hours), For Philip Guston (1984, around four hours) and, most extreme, the String Quartet II (1983), which is over five hours long without a break. It was given its first complete performance at Cooper Union, New York City in 1999 by the FLUX Quartet, who issued a recording in 2003 (at 6 hours and 7 minutes). Typically, these pieces maintain a very slow developmental pace (if not static) and tend to be made up of mostly very quiet sounds. Feldman said himself that quiet sounds had begun to be the only ones that interested him. In a 1982 lecture, Feldman noted: "Do we have anything in music for example that really wipes everything out? That just cleans everything away?"
The Tale of a Chance Meeting That Set the Music World on Its Ear: Carnegie Hall Restages the Epic Encounter Between John Cage and Morton Feldman in 3-Day Festival Called 'When Morty Met John'
Feb 02, 2001; Mostel, Raphael Forward 02-02-2001 The Tale of a Chance Meeting That Set the Music World on Its Ear: CarnegieHall Restages the...