Morton Feldman


mode 146

Feldman Edition 9–Composing By Numbers


mode 146 Morton FELDMAN, Vol. 9: Composing by Numbers – The Barton Workshop plays graphic scores.

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Feldman Edition 9–Composing By Numbers

The Barton Workshop
James Fulkerson, director

Projection I (1950)   (2:56)
Taco Kooistra, cello

Projection II (1951)   (4:43)
The Barton Workshop, James Fulkerson, conductor

Projection III (1951)   (2:01)
Philip Corner and Frank Denyer, pianos

Projection IV (1951)   (4:33)
Marieke Keser, violin and Frank Denyer, piano

Projection V (1951)   (2:27)
The Barton Workshop, James Fulkerson, conductor

Intersection I (1951)*   (12:40)
The Barton Workshop, Jos Zwaanenburg, conductor

Marginal Intersection (1951)*   (6:02)
The Barton Workshop, Jos Zwaanenburg, conductor

Intersection II (1951)   (11:01)
Frank Denyer, piano

Intersection III (1953)   (2:41)
Frank Denyer, piano

Intersection IV (1953)   (3:10)
Taco Kooistra, cello

Out of ‘Last Pieces’ (1961)*   (9:16)
The Barton Workshop, Jos Zwaanenburg, conductor

The Straits of Magellan (1961)   (5:09)
The Barton Workshop, James Fulkerson, conductor

In Search of An Orchestration (1967)*   (7:44)
The Barton Workshop, Jos Zwaanenburg, conductor

When Feldman met Cage in the winter of 1949, they quickly established a friendship based upon a similarity of intent and a mutual respect for the work each was doing. Soon thereafter, Feldman showed a string quartet he had been writing to Cage. Cage’s enthusiasm for this work, and delight in Feldman’s being unable to explain “how” he had written it, gave Feldman an all important “permission” to follow his intuition.

  • This period of time marks the beginning of Feldman’s “graph music”, so named because it was written on graph paper, but also because it is part of a larger movement in 20th century music during which music notation departed from the traditional staff notation and began to incorporate a great deal of graphic symbols.
  • In these 17 works, Feldman was working towards a vision of plasticity and freedom. One hears in these works the micro-polyphony of later Ligeti, noise which he later rejects, and often a ferocity within the sound/performance – characteristics which he eschewed in his later work.
  • Of the 17 works he composed in the graphic style, this recording offers a total of 13 of them.
  • They appear in the order of composition enabling a listener to listen to the development of Feldman’s compositional thinking.


Morton Feldman
Composing by Numbers / The Graphic Scores 1950 – 67

Mode 146

This ninth volume of Mode’s Feldman Edition brings together 13 of the 17 works the composer notated using graph instead of normal manuscript paper (between 1950’s “Projection I” and 1967’s “In Search of An Orchestration”, though Feldman temporarily abandoned his graphic notation after 1953’s “Intersection IV” and only returned to it five years later with “Ixion”), performed with customary aplomb by the Amsterdam-based Barton Workshop under the baton of Jos Zwaanenburg and their music director James Fulkerson, who also provides the perceptive liner notes. Feldman collectors had better get their credit cards ready, as the disc includes the first recordings of three ensemble works: “Intersection I”, “Marginal Intersection” and “In Search of An Orchestration”. (1961’s “Out of ‘Last Pieces'” is also billed as a first, though my Feldman database lists another recording of the work conducted by Leonard Bernstein as part of Sony’s Bernstein Century edition.)

1951 was quite a prolific year for Feldman – he composed no fewer than 14 works, of which “Intersection I” and “Marginal Intersection” call for the largest forces – but while his graphic scores for chamber line-ups are no longer surprising to our ears, having been performed and recorded relatively frequently (five commercially available versions exist of “Projection I” and there are several readings of the later works in the “Projections” series, even including another by the same ensemble), the same compositional techniques used with a full ensemble lead to a rather thick, chromatically saturated texture at odds with the quasi-Webernian sparsity of the chamber pieces. The music is uncompromising, and, though recognisably Feldman, not always attractive. It’s surprising, though, that “Marginal Intersection” hasn’t been released before, as it’s remarkably colourful, if atypical. In addition to the instrumental ensemble, in which percussion features quite prominently, the piece calls for two oscillators – one senses the influence of Varèse somewhere in the background, though the once more rather claggy pitch world is far removed from his razor-sharp set theory. In contrast, notes in Frank Denyer’s version of “Intersection II” sound so good I’m tempted to wonder if Denyer, a talented and woefully underestimated composer in his own right, didn’t prepare his own performing version of the score (à la David Tudor, as mentioned in the review above) prior to the recording session. His muscular bravura in “Intersections III” also gives the lie to the idea that Feldman’s music must, of necessity, be slow, quiet and fragile. A comparison of the two solo cello works, “Projection I” (1950) and “Intersection IV”, dating from three years later, both splendidly performed by Taco Kooistra, reveals how sophisticated Feldman’s graph paper notation had become by the time he abandoned it later in 1953. When he returned to the medium at the end of the decade, the results were deceptively complex, and strikingly beautiful. Compared to the rather muddy textures of “Intersection I”, “Out of ‘Last Pieces'” and “The Straits of Magellan”, both written in 1961, positively shimmer – and I thought the Turfan Ensemble’s reading of the latter on Mode 103 couldn’t be equalled – and it’s wonderful to finally hear “In Search of An Orchestration”. Not that Morton Feldman had to search all that far: his mastery of instrumentation is evident throughout this fine disc.
— Dan Warbuton,, June 2005



Also by THE BARTON WORKSHOP on Mode Records:
Morton FELDMAN: Voices and Instruments (mode 107)
Christian WOLFF: I Like to Think of Harriet Tubman. (mode 69)
Christian WOLFF: (Re):Making Music (mode 133/134)

Morton Feldman on Mode:
Vol.1: Piano works played by Aki Takahashi. (mode 54)
Vol. 2: First Recordings: 1950s-with the Turfan Ensemble (mode 66)
Vol. 3:  Complete Works for Violin and Piano-Sabat/Clarke Duo
(mode 82/83, 2-CDs)
Vol. 4:  The Straits of Magellan – Indeterminate Music – with the
Turfan Ensemble (mode 103)
Vol. 5:  Voices and Instruments (mode 107)
Vol. 6:  String Quartet No. 2 (mode 112, 1-DVD or 5-CDs)
Vol. 7: Late Works with Clarinet (mode 119)
Vol. 8: Marilyn Nonken plays Triadic Memories (mode 136)

The Barton Workshop Profile

Morton Feldman Profile/Discography