Coptic Light, premiered in New York in 1986, is the last orchestral work by Morton Feldman. Fragments of Coptic textiles, which he had encountered in the Louvre, served as a source of inspiration for the piece. The bright, soft sound is the result of a precise disposition of pitches and rhythms in the orchestra. He wrote in the foreword to the score:
‘Having an avid interest in all varieties of arcane weaving of the Middle East I recently viewed the stunning examples of early Coptic textiles on permanent display at the Louvre. What struck me about these fragments of coloured cloth was how they conveyed an essential atmosphere of their civilisation. Transferring this thought to another realm, I asked myself what aspects of the music since Monteverdi might determine its atmosphere, if heard 2000 years from now. For me the analogy would be one of the instrumental imagery of Western music. These were some of the metaphors that occupied my thoughts while composing Coptic Light. An important technical aspect of the composition was prompted by Sibelius’ observation that the orchestra differed mainly from the piano in that it has no pedal. With this in mind, I set to work to create an orchestral pedal, continually varying in nuance. This “chiaroscuro” is both the compositional and the instrumental focus of Coptic Light.’
A new orchestral sound, which is only marginally related to the achievements of Ligeti, can be heard in the piece. Fascination in his works continues to this day. The next performance will take place on 29 November 2019 in the Grand Auditorium in Luxembourg.
Read the full score: