1st Edition

Composing Ambiguity: The Early Music of Morton Feldman

ISBN 9781138270534
Published September 6, 2016 by Routledge
228 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

American composer Morton Feldman is increasingly seen to have been one of the key figures in late-twentieth-century music, with his work exerting a powerful influence into the twenty-first century. At the same time, much about his music remains enigmatic, largely due to long-standing myths about supposedly intuitive or aleatoric working practices. In Composing Ambiguity, Alistair Noble reveals key aspects of Feldman's musical language as it developed during a crucial period in the early 1950s. Drawing models from primary sources, including Feldman's musical sketches, he shows that Feldman worked deliberately within a two-dimensional frame, allowing a focus upon the fundamental materials of sounding pitch in time. Beyond this, Feldman's work is revealed to be essentially concerned with the 12-tone chromatic field, and with the delineation of complexes of simple proportions in 'crystalline' forms. Through close reading of several important works from the early 1950s, Noble shows that there is a remarkable consistency of compositional method, despite the varied experimental notations used by Feldman at this time. Not only are there direct relations to be found between staff-notated works and grid scores, but much of the language developed by Feldman in this period was still in use even in his late works of the 1980s.

Table of Contents

Contents: Listening to process, playing the system; ’To create music as if on a canvas’: Intermission 5 (1952); Piano Piece (1952): ’a discipline of vagueness’; Intermission 6 (1953): ’the outlines of becoming’: ’Primitive designs’: hearing and thinking through Intersection 3; Playing Feldman; Bibliography; Index.

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Dr Alistair Noble is a musicologist, composer, and pianist. He teaches in the School of Music at The Australian National University, where he is also Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Social Sciences.


'Noble was too modest when he said he hoped ’to place a few solid foundation stones for future scholars in this field to build upon’; in fact, he has supplied the foundation itself. With this book, Feldman scholarship enters a new stage of maturity.' American Record Guide ’... Noble’s remarkable text offers a much deeper insight and covers a notably more extensive range of circumstantial issues than the Table of Contents may humbly indicate. The main content of every chapter consists of a chain of analytical attempts that lead one to a concluding section, where the particular piece of music is being discussed in a more general context. Seemingly unrelated content finally appears to be interconnected in multiple ways, creating in a masterly fashion a fine web of recognizable lines of thought. As a pianist himself, Noble approaches Feldman’s pieces with a subtle performer’s sensitivity for the sonority, touch, registral and dynamic richness of his instrument - a sense of technical and artistic proficiency he shares with the composer himself. The manifold original insights into Feldman’s compositional practice based upon the investigation of primary sources make this book worthy of recommendation to any reader curious to explore the technical aspect of this music or to seek a different approach to his distinctive sonorities’. IRASM (Recenzije i obavijesti o izdanjima)