Morton Feldman: Film Music

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Film Feldman score
Jackson Pollock (1951)  10 minutes  colour
by Hans Namuth & Paul Falkenberg
The American abstract expressionist painter describes his ideas and techniques. Includes a sequence during which Pollock paints on glass.
Film title still
Unpublished score1: "Music for the film Jackson Pollock" (1951) for two cellos2.
For the film, Feldman's school friend Daniel Stern played both cello parts on two separately recorded tracks3.
Sculpture by Lipton (1954)  15 minutes  b/w
by Nathan Boxer
The American metal constructionist sculptor, Seymour Lipton, at work in his studio.
Film title still
Unidentified score.
Original piano music by Feldman is used in two sequences: A short sequence near the beginning accompanying shots of natural phenomena (trees, leaves, seed heads, etc) from which Lipton drew inspiration, and a longer section at the end which accompanies shots of Lipton's sculptures. In the second sequence, Feldman's music is collaged with metallic sounds like those made by Lipton when manipulating his metal sculptures in the studio.

Watch the two sequences where Feldman's music is used:

Something Wild (1961)  113 minutes  b/w
by Jack Garfein
College girl, Mary Ann Robinson, is brutally raped, leaves home, attempts suicide and is rescued by Mike, an unhappy alcoholic.
Film title still
Unpublished score: Something Wild in the City: Mary Ann's Theme (1960) for horn, celesta, string quartet.
The director, Jack Garfein, commissioned Feldman but, after hearing the music for the opening rape scene, he withdrew the commission. The commission was subsequently given to Aaron Copland.

Read Feldman's remarks about his music for this film.

Watch the two versions of the rape scene:

The Sin of Jesus (1961)  37 minutes  b/w
by Robert Frank
Adaption of a short story by Isaac Babel in which Jesus sends a spurned, pregnant woman an angel to ease her suffering. When she kills the angel with her passion, Jesus asks her forgiveness but she is unable to grant it.
Film title still
Unpublished score: "Music for the film The Sin of Jesus" (1960) for flute, horn, trumpet, cello.
Willem De Kooning: The Painter (1964)  14 minutes  colour
by Hans Namuth & Paul Falkenberg
De Kooning paints and comments on the challenges that confront a painter with each new work.
Film title still
Published score: De Kooning (1963) for horn, percussion, piano/celesta, violin, cello.
Feldman's music is interrupted just before the mid-point of the film by a short excerpt from Schubert's Impromptu No. 3 from Four Impromptus, D. 899 (Op. 90).
Room Down Under (1964)  60 minutes  b/w
by Dan Klugherz
National Educational Television documentary about the impact on Australia of European immigration since the end of the second world war.
Film title still
Unpublished score: "Music for the film Room Down Under" (undated score, probably 1963) for flute, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, double bass.
In the first session of his Johannesburg Masterclasses (July, 1983), Feldman says: "There was like two minutes [in Room Down Under] in the Outback in Australia where I wrote my own music, but as far as everything else I found a marvellous formula. The material was somewhat like Bernstein with classy modulations like the way he does and the orchestration was Varèsian to some degree. Only because we were on a low budget... and Varèse has shown us historically that you can get a lot out of seven instruments!"
Time of the Locust (1966)  13 minutes  b/w
by Peter Gessner
Anti-Vietnam war film, compiled from unreleased newsreel footage.
Film title still
Unidentified score4.
Original percussion music by Feldman, performed by Max Neuhaus, used in soundtrack.
After an explosive opening for drums and cymbals, Feldman's music, which is collaged with other music and speech elements, consists mainly of repeated timpani notes and rolls, repeated vibraphone chords, and repeated notes on vibraphone and chimes. Towards the end of the film an excerpt from a recording of Feldman's The Swallows of Salangan (1960) for chorus and orchestra is also used.
American Samoa: Paradise Lost? (1969)  55 minutes  colour
by Dan Klugherz
National Educational Television documentary about the changes to traditional Polynesian life resulting from US administration.
Film title still
Unpublished score: "Music for the film American Samoa: Paradise Lost?" (1968) for flute, horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, vibraphone, piano, cello.
In the ninth session of his Johannesburg Masterclasses (July, 1983), Feldman says: "[American Samoa: Paradise Lost?] opens up and there are these canoes, and they go in the water, and it's gorgeous, and it's fantastic. And I had this kind of harp going... [Sings]. And there was two harps, actually. And [the harpists] were both brothers. And these two guys dominated the work in the New York Philharmonic. So I had these two harps going. You didn't know what it was, the orchestration, because the two harps were beautiful. And against that I had a cornet doing a very nice little tune against these two harps, just strumming along nicely, you know, against the canoes in the water and everything."
1. The scores of Feldman's unpublished film music are held in the Morton Feldman Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation, Basel.
2. Ensemble Recherche have recorded all Feldman's film music for which scores have been identified, i.e. six of the eight films described here, on a CD on the Kairos label: "Morton Feldman - Something Wild: Music for Film" (0012292KAI).
3. For a detailed account of the genesis and character of Feldman's music for this film, see Olivia Mattis, "Morton Feldman: Music for the film Jackson Pollock (1951)" in Settling New Scores: Music Manuscripts from the Paul Sacher Foundation, Felix Meyer ed. (Mainz: Schott, 1998) pp 165-167. Also available online at:
4. According to the film's director, Peter Gessner (emails to Chris Villars, March 2013), there was no score for most of this film. Feldman only scored the opening, up to the main title. For the rest of the film he recorded a series of percussive sounds in no particular order or sequence for Gessner to edit and use as he pleased. He also gave Gessner a recording of The Swallows of Salangan to use wherever he wanted. With the exception of the opening, Gessner chose which sounds went with which film images. Clearly, Gessner played a very important role in the composition of the soundtrack of this film as the relationship of Feldman's sound material to the images is very finely judged and effective. Gessner says Feldman was pleased with the result, his only reservation being the inclusion of rock and roll music!
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Peter Gessner for help with the identification of the two National Educational Television documentaries and to Peter Söderberg for help with the identification of the choral piece used in "Time of the Locust".

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