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Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett

  • for 23 players
  • 2 2 2 2 - 2 2 2 1 - vib, hp, pno, str
  • Duration: 55’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute
    2nd flute
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    1st clarinet in Bb
    2nd clarinet in Bb
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    1st trumpet in C
    2nd trumpet in C
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    violin I
    violin II
  • Composer: Morton Feldman
  • Commission: commissioned by The Holland Festival 1987 for the Schoenberg Ensemble

Work introduction

This work was commissioned by the Holland Festival for the Schönberg Ensemble.

The concepts for generating musical light effects are radicalised, and rhythmic patterns are used in a more expansive way. At the outset, the composition develops from a six-pitch aggregate which permutes constantly within each of the orchestra groups (winds, brass, percussion and strings), given new colour accentuation through voice exchange and change of position. This permutation procedure is also used individually in every orchestra group. Asynchronicity predominates simultaneously among the groups; piano, celesta, harp and vibraphone (as instruments with “built-in decrescendo”) are active between the other orchestra groups, pulsing through large portions of the composition with rapid pitch sequences. The pitch inventory broadens in the course of the work (which lasts ca. 30 minutes); at the same time, the continuous voice mixing is joined by rhythmical mixing with relatively rigidly motionless chords among the orchestra groups.

Feldmann used this compositional technique in a way analogous to the method of producing Turkish carpets in the 19th century, in which the patterns were hooked together with innumerable tiny loops, resulting in irregularities due to the nature of the materials used. No sonic shape seems untransformed. They are newly colourised – even later, when discrete groups of bars are repeated ever more frequently. These repetitions are varied mostly by marginal differentiations, not simply “do it again.” The music attains its inexorable self-absorption through a mixture of orchestration and minuscule rhythmical shifts when forming chordal sounds. There are no leaps, no margins (like many of Rothko’s pictures) – there is only the limit of the composition’s beginning and end.

Feldmann died on 3 September 1987 in Buffalo New York, only a few months after finishing For Samuel Beckett.

Martin Hufner


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