Morton FELDMAN (1926-1987)
Spring of Chosroes (1977) [15:41]
Extensions 1 (1951) [6:22]
Extensions 3 (1952) [5:34]
Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963) [5:13]
Vertical Thoughts 4 (1963) [1:41]
For Aaron Copland (1981) [4:12]
Piece for Violin and Piano (1950) 1:55]
Projection IV (1951) [4:45]
Piece for Four Pianos (1957) [11:42]
For John Cage (1982) [76:21]
Andreas Seidel (violin)
Steffen Schleiermacher (piano)
rec. November 2009, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster.

Morton Feldman did not compose much music for violin and piano. This two-disc set contains all of his music for this duo, together with one work for four pianos. Most of these are from the 1950s and 1960s, with the exception of the 1977 Spring of Chosroes, which dates from the beginning of Feldman’s “late” period, and the long 1982 work, For John Cage.
The earliest examples are from the period when Feldman experimented with graphic notation and indeterminacy. While the style of these works is somewhat different from the music for which Feldman would come to be known, they generally feature the same type of quiet, sparse structures as his later output. Vertical Thought 2 is a good example of this. Occasional notes and chords penetrate the silence, creating a mysterious sound.
The 1981 work, For Aaron Copland - short for the pieces that Feldman composed in that period at just over four minutes - features a series of single violin notes that slowly explore the range of notes the instrument can play. Sketching out unexpressed chords, this work for solo violin contains a breath-like rhythm that sounds as if it would be at home with a piano accompaniment.
The 1957 Piece for Four Pianos is composed in a way that each of four pianos plays the same notes, but at their own slow tempo. In some ways, this prefigures Terry Riley’s In C, where musicians would each play a number of melodic phrases, deciding when they wanted to move on to the next. The listener is constantly hearing echoes of what came before, but never at the same rhythm. On this recording, Steffen Schleiermacher performed each of the parts on a separate track, and they were then mixed together. This leaves me wondering how much of the music depends on the actual interplay of four pianists as opposed to one performer playing each part on its own. That said, this is a haunting work that is, in some ways, too short at just under 12 minutes.
The 1977 composition Spring of Chosroes is short and marks the beginning of Feldman’s late period. At just under 16 minutes, one finds here the type of work that Feldman would compose for one hour or more until the end of his life in 1987.
For John Cage, at over 76 minutes, is one of Feldman’s longer pieces. It has been recorded many times, notably by violinist Paul Zukofsky, who premiered it, with Marianne Schroeder on piano. Similar to many of Feldman’s late works, this starts out with a simple two-note interval played alternately on violin and piano. This then shifts to different octaves and different notes, and different forms. This simple phrase gives birth to a variety of variations that increase in length, that explore different shapes and notes, and that continue their changes throughout the work. Played at a minimal volume, this piece is one where the silence between the notes is, perhaps, more important than the notes themselves. It’s quite hypnotic, like many of Feldman’s other long works, one that builds up over time yet fades away at the end as though it never was.
This is an interesting set, dominated by the disc-long For John Cage. Any fan of Feldman’s works should own a recording of this piece. The other, earlier pieces, are interesting for completists, though the Piece for Four Pianos is certainly a discovery for me.  

Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville.

A collection of Feldman’s works for these two instruments, with especially the 76-minute For John Cage, a great late work.