Feldman: Edition 3 - Complete Music for Violin & Piano
1. Piece for Violin and Piano (1950) (1:55)
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2. Projection 4 (1951) (5:08)
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3. Extensions 1 (1951) (5:28)
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4. Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963) (3:04)
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5. Spring of Chosroes (1977) (15:27)
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6. For John Cage (1982) beginning (40:42)
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1. For John Cage (1982) conclusion (41:14)
(total duration of “For John Cage”: 81:56)
Marc Sabat, violin
Stephen Clarke, piano
Here, collected for the first time, are all of Morton Feldman’s compositions for violin and piano. It is also a kind of walk through his compositional development, from the Webernesque early Piece for Violin and Piano (1950); through the experiments with graphic notation in Projection 4 (1951); followed by an excursion into the jungle-like density of David Tudor’s energy in Extensions 1 (1951); to the cryptic notational riddles of Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963); from the dry carpet-dusting Spring of Chosroes (1977) to the extended sound canvas of the late Feldman in For John Cage (1982). He remarked, with an eye twinkling: “My music is just like Webern. Only a little bit longer.”
Sabat/Clarke, from Toronto, have performed together since 1996 and are specialists in this special “world” (their repertoire also consists of the complete violin & piano music of Christian Wolff and James Tenney. They have recorded works of Tenney (on HatArt) with plans for a future disc of Wolff’s pieces for violin and piano on Mode.
The liner notes by German composer Walter Zimmermann are interspersed with Feldman’s own comments culled from various interviews with Zimmermann and others.
(Re: For John Cage)
“Here, too, Sabat and Clarke prove their mastery. Sabat adapts to Feldman’s mean-tone tuning with consummate flair, while both manage to capture the atmosphere of blossoming potential and brilliance of Feldman’s inventive, quietly meditative score.”
—Catherine Nelson, The Wire, January 2001
Morton FELDMAN: Extensions I, For John Cage, Piece for Violin and Piano, Projection 4, Spring of Chosroes, Vertical Thoughts 2
Marc Sabat vn. Stephen Clarke pf
“A fascinating selection of pieces convincingly representing the different stages in Morton Feldman’s creative life”
Gathering together Feldman’s violin & piano music might be an ideal way to persuade potential listeners to get to grips with this fascinating figure. The whole Feldman is here, from Webernian miniatures and graphic mobiles to a musical timespan both eventful and inscrutable. Yet be warned, there’s a pared-down intensity to this music which demands especial commitment from the listener.
The 1950s pieces now have more historical than musical significance, suspending musical continuity within a (never random) method of graphic notation. The results are distinctive, Extensions I divertingly so, but freeze-framed in a way that precludes a spontaneous approach to performance. Vertical Thoughts 2 (1963) is the mature Feldman in chrysalis, each moment an expressive stage in an unfolding process. Spring of Chosroes (1977)extends this so that the act of playing is ingrained in the musical material; the instruments, moreover, are always threatening to interact so that when they do interlock (12’10”), the release of tension parallels that of classical resolution.
For John Cage is 1980s Feldman with a vengeance: an unbroken 82-minute span (split mid-way across the discs) of imaginative refinement, fastidiously realised here. As with all late Feldman, intensity of listening determines extent of impact, the latter increasing the more one ‘climbs inside’ the actual sound, living the music as (and even before) it happens. John Cage, in his amusing conversation with Feldman included in the booklet- notes, refers to ‘an absolute overwhelming need to get into the crevices of our whole experience’, and connecting with this music certainly affords an experience like no other.
—Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone, October 2000
Complete Works for Violin & Piano
“…The Canadian contemporary music duo Marc Sabat and Stephen Clarke seem utterly at home with Feldman’s complex style. They bring incredible precision and concentration of expression to the opening Piece for violin and piano, and the denser textures and flurries of activity of Extensions 1 (1951). Projection 4 (1951) relies on the players’ creative impulses, Feldman using graph notation which indicates pitches and rhythms in very general terms – for example, only a broad registral range is suggested for each note. The players revel in Feldman’s concern for subtly changing densities and combinations of timbres. Vertical Thoughts (1963) plays on Feldman’s theory that ‘time untangles complexity’: that an angular melody is perceived differently at a slower speed. Sabat andClarke unfold its far-flung contours with tender yet gritty intensity.”
—Philip Clark, from The Strad, September 2000
Complete Music for Violin and Piano
Le scintillanti particelle di suono – libere di giocarsi le loro chances fuori dal reticolo stratificato dei suoni – in Extensions 1 (1951). La meravigliosa staticità – le particelle di suono perdute nell’estrema rarefazione della galassia sonora – in Projection 4 (1951). Il passaggio attraverso Vertical thoughts 2 (1963) e Spring of Chosroes (1977) al lungo, metodico, incantato, pragmatico procedere dentro il fenomeno della musica con frammenti melodici << semplici >> che si accumulano e si affermano, come negli ottanta minuti di For John Cage (1982). Viene voglia di dire: chi non ha ascoltato queste musiche, chi non ha mai stabilito relazioni con queste musiche, intime relazioni, preferibile la coabitazione, non può sapere che cos’è la musica. Non ne ha esperienza. Suonano con feldmaniana praticità Marc Sabat (violino) e Stephen Clarke (pianoforte).
—Mario Gamba in Alias (Il Manifesto) 2 September 2000
Complete Works for Violin & Piano
Performance ***** (highest)
Sound ***** (highest)
Verdict: “Authoritative performances of challenging and inspiring pieces”
Re: “For John Cage”
“…The surface of the music is always calm and restrained but tension grows out of the extreme concentration needed to perform and listen to these works. Sabat and Clarke prove to be astute performers indeed of this piece, playing with immense control and beauty.”
“The opening pieces show how Feldman arrived at his extraordinarily personal late style… Sabat and Clarke’s performance of Projection 4 has particular poise and refinement.”
—from Classic CD, September 2000
Complete Music for Violin and Piano
Piece for Violin and Piano; Projection 4; Extensions 1; Vertical Thoughts 2; Spring of Chosroes; For John Cage.Marc Sabat (violin); Stephen Clark (piano)
(113:51 minutes, DDD)
* * * * * Sound
* * * * * Performance
Verdict: Authoritative performances of challenging and inspiring pieces
That the opening Piece for Violin and Piano is under two minutes and the final work For John Cage is over eighty minutes long gives an indication of the extremes of Morton Feldman’s work. He was a composer uniquely concerned with scale and redefining the experience of listening to music in the concert hall. His tribute to Cage is typical of his late work, with tightly controlled repeating material slowly moving in and out of focus and imperceptibly developing into new areas. The surface of the music is always calm and restrained but tension grows out of the intense concentration needed to perform and listen to these works. Sabat and Clarke prove to be astute performers indeed of this piece, playing with immense control and beauty. The opening pieces show how Feldman arrived at his extraordinarly personal late style. During the 1950s, together with composers like John Cage and Earle Brown, Feldman was concerned with chance procedures and the influence of abstract expressionist artists like Marc Rothko. The resulting pieces, though wearing their era very much on their sleeves, still have the power to charm and beguile. Sabat and Clarke’s performance of Projection 4 has particular prose and refinement. Of course, these pieces are designed to sound different at each hearing and these CD performances give them a permanence the composer did not intend.
— Philip Clark, Classic CD, September 2000
Complete Works for Violin & Piano
“FIRST CLASS FELDMAN”
This two CD set is the second release by Sabat/Clarke, hot on the heals of the exquisite James Tenney: Music for Violin and Piano (on the Hat Hut label). It is also a minor feat, as far as complete genre surveys of Morton Feldman go. To my knowledge, it is only the second, the other being John Tilbury’s complete two-hand piano set (LondonHALL). Spanning thirty-two years of the composer’s output, Sabat/Clarke’s outing constitutes Volume 3 of Mode’s Feldman Edition, and includes one of his first graphically scored works, as well as the late-period epic For John Cage.
By 1950, with Piece for Violin and Piano, Feldman had already created the basic musical model for what he was later to produce, that model comprising aspects of Webern, Varèse, Cage, and the Abstract Expressionist painters. The duo gives this brief work a carefully measured reading, maintaining an even rhythmic flow, while revealing as many colours as possible in the spare texture. Violinist Marc Sabat’s gossamer strands increase in length and luminescence as the music progresses, only to be obliterated by several loud interjections from pianist Stephen Clarke.
Projection 4 resulted from Feldman’s devising a notational system wherein pitch is specified only as high, middle or low, thus allowing a degree of performer improvisation. Sabat/Clarke plot a rather stratospheric course with their pitch choices, which serve to mask the main weakness of the piece, its lack of durational variety. The duo builds up momentum with Extensions 1, where tempo changes bring on rapid-fire exchanges of disjointed sound. Here, Clarke is the dominant voice, as he projects sonorities into several different spaces simultaneously, with Sabat catching the rebounds. Vertical Thoughts 2 presents an almost classic view of Feldman, one in which the performers revel: shifting durations, resonant piano chords giving way to shimmering violin harmonics, and an intuitive structure where sound and silence are almost on equal terms.
Feldman had begun his late period by Spring of Chosroes (1971), in terms of style if not compositional length. His complex treatment of rhythm in this period can instill a tension in the interpreter that is passed on to the listener, further heightening the static imagery. Sabat/Clarke present Chosroes as a fragile blossom, palpating ever so gently its reiterated shapes. The composer, however, has rigged the flower to wilt in slow, descending chromatic steps.
Over eighty-minutes long, For John Cage dwarfs the other pieces in the set with its near cosmic scale. The level of magnification is such that all that exists is a music of intervals. The duo gracefully wades through the somnolent, cloud-like patterns, often with just four notes between them. The focus is often on Sabat, as he plays the implied microtonal deviations in the score (Feldman being once again, unspecific about pitch). His playing transcends abstract instrumental sound in a way unrelated to virtuosity, yet masterful. Exploring gradations of touch, Clarke finds a universe of shadows and light in his piano. This time, the music ascends in lilting, parallel chromatic ostinatos, the performance demonstrating their adeptness in low-gravity settings.
It has often seemed to me that Feldman’s music is about death. More specifically, it’s about the death of sound – about how it decays. This explains the extreme quite of his music – it isn’t about velocity or attack. Clarke, while sounding more assured with the kinetic pointillism of the earlier works, nonetheless shows a fine hand with the soft passages throughout, giving the notes just enough weight. Sabat also takes the right approach, given that a fingered, bowed sound on the violin does not fade away like a sound keyed on the piano. With a vibrato-less tone, a minimum of attack, and a hint of decrescendo on the sustained notes, he places his instrument in a sonic world very close to that of the piano.
There is a slight balance problem on the recording. For example, on CD1, track 3 and on CD2 from 8:00 to 9:00, the piano eclipses the violin, though this may be intentional. The sound is ambient, but not overly rich. I suggest listening in an undisturbed environment, at a volume which puts the quietest passage near the limit of audibility, in order to approximate the “flat surface” Feldman worked with. This is a must have for the composer’s fans, and strongly recommended to other new-music devotees.
— Bruce Russell, MusicWorks, Summer 2000
Complete Music for Violin & Piano. (Mode 82/83, 2-CDs)
Attempting to explain what he perceived as pop art’s inherent uneasiness, Clement Greenberg complained that it met you more than halfway. There may be an element of this that accounts for the increasing popularity of Morton Feldman’s music. Not that it’s “easy” per se, but that it’s frequently quiet, sparse and strangely seductive because of this. In other words, a lot less demonstrative and intimidating than other areas of musical modernism. This is certainly the case for the six works for violin and piano on Mode’s latest Feldman release. From the Webernesque miniature, Piece for Violin and Piano (1950), through the almost aggressive (for Feldman) high frequencies and clusters of Projections 4 (1951), to the prickly pizzicato of Spring Of Chosroes (1977) and the continental drift of an 82 minute For John Cage (1982), Feldman’s distinctive vision is consistently focused on the minutiae of pitch, timbre and decay, each tone weighted against the next with watchmaker precision. “But my music cannot be loud.because it’s not into that kind of phenomenon,” says Feldman to Cage in a sleevenote conversation. And after listening to 113 minutes of these two captivating discs in one sitting, you know exactly what he means.
—The Wire, July 2000
Sabat & Clarke
Complete Music for Violin & Piano. Marc Sabat, Stephen Clarke (Mode)
“My music is just like Webern. Only a little bit longer,” wrote Feldman (1926-87), a contemporary and friend of John Cage. Indeed, in “For John Cage”, which lasts for 82 minutes on this double CD, it goes on for quite a bit longer. Duration both is and isn’t the point, but if you were forced to remain a prisoner within the work of any composer, Feldman would prove a remarkably compliant host. Gauged in terms of musical events, little happens; instead, the soundscape shifts almost imperceptibly, like the play of light on an object or the subtle transitions of a colour-field painting. These performances by the Canadian duo of Marc Sabat (violin) and Stephen Clarke (piano) demonstrate how of a piece Feldman’s world was, whether from 1950 or 1982.
— PJ, The Independent, 25 June 2000
Complete Music for Violin & Piano. Marc Sabat, Stephen Clarke (Mode, 2-CDs)
The Canadian violin and piano duo of Marc Sabat and Stephen Clarke (who’ll be giving the only première in the Gerald Barry Festival next week) here range over Morton Feldman’s output from 1950 to 1982, from the miniature, Webern-flavoured Piece for Violin and Piano, to the late, 82-minute, For John Cage, where microtonal violin grazes tiny gaps against the equal-tempered piano. In an odd way, the combination of string instrument and piano — always one of the most difficult of musical marriages — places the minute gestures of Feldman’s hushed world in an austere light, much more so, even, than the works for solo piano. With its elaboration of the miniscule through time, Feldman’s is music of a nakedness which the combination of bow and hammer simply never distracts from.
— Michael Dervan, Irish Times, 16 June 2000
FELDMAN Edition Volume 3:
Complete Music for Violin & Piano: Extensions I, For John Cage, Piece for Violin and Piano, Projection 4, Spring of Chosroes, Vertical Thoughts 2
Marc Sabat (violin), Stephen Clarke (piano)
(Full price, 2-discs, 1 hour 54 minutes). Producer: Michael Hynes. Engineers: Michael Hynes, Marc Sabat. Date June 1998
Here is all the music Morton Feldman wrote for violin and piano, presented in chronological order, from his two minute Piece (1950) to the gripping, 82-minute epic For John Cage, written in 1982. If you have the patience to sit through the gripping performances on this two-disc set from beginning to end, you’ll come away with a heightened sense of how Feldman’s singular, fragile aesthetic developed and deepened over a span of nearly 35 years. Anton Webern’s parsimonious spirit guides the aforementioned Piece for Violin and Piano’s aphoristic parameters.