So in the spirit of this months quiet music theme I thought I would write a bit about one of my favorite pieces by Morton Feldman. Although Feldman later became known for his epic long pieces this work is one of his shortest.
The piece really sums up a lot of what I think Feldman was trying to express when he said to John Cage in their 1966 "Radio Happenings series" that he wanted to write a piece for piano that used only one finger. The interval of a major third is used in almost every phrase of the piece leaving it to the rest of the orchestration to cast that interval in a new light every few bars. It is this method of using material in such a rigorously restricted way in order to create and discover each piece's aural language that Feldman often explores in his work.
The piece also really exemplifies more generally what I love so much about Feldmans work; the focused pacing, the intricately detailed orchestration (check out those subtle tubular bells in the background), interesting instrumentation, and the wonderful feeling of stillness while still maintaining a constant sense of movement. I find it so impressive how Feldman can write something that is so meticulously rhythmic in its notation yet when when listened to almost sounds rubato.
(image of early piano piece - "Intermissions" copyright C. Peters Corporation)
I don't actually know much about the story behind "Madame Press Died Last Night at Ninety"; what I have read though is that Madame Press was Feldman's childhood piano teacher. If anyone knows more about this piece I would love to hear it!
A quick and dense arpeggio from the celeste bookends the piece, perhaps a reference to the way we all enter and leave this world.