Looking at Morton Feldman, one hardly would have guessed that this irrepressible, self-described “New York Jew” created some of the most mystical and subtle music ever composed. Yet since his death, in 1987, it has become ever more apparent that his late works are among the most individual, distinctive and influential of the second half of the 20th century — even if recognition and reverence for his achievements are still more widespread in Europe than in the United States.
There have been New York premieres of several noteworthy works recently, including major new violin concertos by Harrison Birtwhistle and James McMillan. But easily the most interesting was the grand finale of Lincoln Center’s Tully Scope Festival on March 18: Heiner Goebbels’s “Songs of Wars I Have Seen,” which uses passages from the remarkable book of the same name by Gertrude Stein. Despite being not only Jewish and American but also a lesbian and a modernist, Stein managed to survive Vichy-era France without too much privation, and the book is essentially a distillation of her diary from that period.
Originally Published in The Forward on February 2, 2001It takes only a few people to make an era. On February 9 to February 11, Carnegie Hall will present a series of three concerts and several related events celebrating two such people who met by chance. When John Cage met Morton Feldman at a 1950 concert at that hall, it was a seminal event: The two singular composers became friends and went on to challenge not just each other but also a great deal that happened subsequently, inside and outside the world of classical music.