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.
Unpublished score1: "Music for the film Jackson Pollock" (1951) for two cellos.
For the film, Feldman's school friend Daniel Stern played both cello parts on two separately recorded tracks2.
Sculpture by Lipton (1954)  15 minutes  b/w
by Nathan Boxer
The American metal constructionist sculptor, Seymour Lipton, at work in his studio.
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.
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.
Unpublished score: Something Wild in the City: Mary Ann's Theme (1960) for horn, celesta, string quartet.
Jack Garfein commissioned Feldman but, after hearing the music for the rape scene, he withdrew the commission. According to Feldman, Garfein said: "My wife [Carroll Baker, playing Mary Ann in the film] is being raped and you write celesta music? I want something like: papa papa papa."3 The commission was subsequently given to Aaron Copland.
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.
Unpublished score: "Music for the film The Sin of Jesus" (1960) for flute, horn, trumpet, cello.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.
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
by Dan Klugherz
National Educational Television documentary about the impact on Australia of European immigration since the end of the second world war.
Unpublished score: "Music for the film Room Down Under" (undated score, probably 1963) for flute, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, double bass.
Time of the Locust (1966)  13 minutes  b/w
by Peter Gessner
Anti-Vietnam war film, compiled from unreleased newsreel footage.
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.
Unpublished score: "Music for the film American Samoa: Paradise Lost?" (1968) for flute, horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, vibraphone, piano, cello.
1. Unpublished scores are held in the Morton Feldman Collection at the Paul Sacher Foundation, Basel.
2. 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:
3. Feldman's account of this incident can be found in Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman edited by B. H. Friedman (Exact Change, 2000) pp 187/8.
4. According to 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 his orchestrated choral piece The Swallows of Salangan to use wherever he wanted. With the exception of the opening, Gessner chose which sounds went with the 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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