Feldman, Morton

/ Fell-d-muh-n /

An introduction to the 20th-century experimental American composer

Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman is best known as a pioneer of graphic notation. He was strongly influenced by contemporary art, including works by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, who were also friends. Feldman’s greatest contribution is widely considered to be his ‘late style’, a series of gently abstract one-movement chamber music works. Often lasting over an hour, they are intended to be played so quietly as to be barely audible.


Most notable works:

Durations (1960) – In which the performers begin simultaneously but are free to choose their own durations.

Rothko Chapel (1971) – Inspired by 30 murals painted by Feldman’s friend Mark Rothko, around which a Catholic chapel was designed in 1965.

Second String Quartet (1985) – One unbroken movement that is over five hours in length.

A life in brief:

1926 – Born into a Russian-Jewish immigrant family. His father ia a coat maker, and Feldman works for the family business for much of his life.

c.1932 – Begins studying the piano

1950 – Meets John Cage, who encourages Feldman to have confidence in his instincts. This results in Feldman developing an intuitive, personal approach to composition.

1973 – Becomes a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Feldman gives insightful and entertaining talks about 20th century music, many of which are published.


1987 – Marries his former pupil, Canadian composer Barbara Monk, shortly before he dies aged 61 of pancreatic cancer.