Morton Feldman: For Philip Guston

Morton Feldman: For Philip Guston

by California EAR Unit


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This monolithic four-plus hour work, composed very late in Feldman's career, is among his longest; only "String Quartet No. 2" (at six hours) and "For Christian Wolf" (at over three) are in its company. But it is this work, and in particular this performance, that reveals Feldman's particular obsession with discovery. However, his means are far different than most composers, yet not unlike those of the namesake of this piece, Philip Guston, a father of abstract expressionism, to whom Feldman had also dedicated a short piano piece in the 1950s. Feldman's "abstract" music, with its insistence on sparse passages and quiet, was also one of total control. Listening back to a music he had created in which strict adherence to a score was necessary for the players, Feldman found himself, and what he found was known only to him. But listeners are set free to wander these long hours wherever the eyes of the soul may take them. An earlier recording of this piece by Eberhard Blum and company on the Hat Art label was stilted and academic; it came off as if the composer himself was attempting some gargantuan exercise, which didn't ring true when placed against the body of Feldman's work. This version, by members of the wonderful California EAR Unit, is far more relaxed, a necessity given the score's restrictive architecture. Perhaps the most striking thing about this piece is that, in the 104 pages that comprise the score, no two passages bear the same time signature! It doesn't matter whether there is a notated silence, a cluster of short chords on the celeste or piano, or a single note or two spaced within the same measure; each passage, by nature of its place in stretching the notion of time itself, is given an identity so unique that it appears as whole and disappears as fragment when the next passage begins. Proportion is everything in this work, and the players seem to understand this implicitly. Each note is precise in pitch and timbre; each is played without a hint of the enormous tension in the score. At no time is the strident pursuit of the score's demands relaxed. In the last bars, after over four hours of music, the time signatures run 7/4, 6/4, 5/4, 9/8, 11/8, and 13/8, followed by a silent measure (which sounds perfectly welcome as an instrument here) of 2/2, 5/4, 5/4, and 6/4, which moves directly into another silent measure of 2/2, 13/8, 9/8, and 11/8, and the final, disappearing 2/2 (so quiet that it almost wasn't played). Feldman has created an "abstraction of exactitude" in this homage to his friend, which is exactly the manner in which Guston the artist extracted everything from himself. Silence plays its usual pivotal role here, not as ether to emerge from, but as the platform to which all notes are held in the end. They emerge from and add immeasurably to the previous silence, as a meditator's breath disappears into the universal stream of emptiness and becomes one with it. The sound here is phenomenal, clean and clear throughout. This is the definitive performance of this work to date and, given its length, will probably be for some time to come.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/18/1997
Label: Bridge
UPC: 0090404907821
catalogNumber: 9078
Rank: 76846


  1. For Philip Guston, for flute, piano & percussion

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