[Morton Feldman Page] [List of Texts]

Morton Feldman - Waiting

by Martine Cadieu

[English translation by Chris Villars, corrected by Helene Mea]

The original French version of the following article by Martine Cadieu was published in Les Lettres françaises (1969) and subsequently reprinted in her book, A l'écoute des compositeurs (Paris: Minerve, 1992) pp 202-205.

I met him at the last concert of Domaine Musical - after having seen him in Venice. I told him that I would like to talk to him and he replied that he was staying in France for a month, in the country.

- Come and have your lunch with me in Point-point.
(Note: "Po-ï-nnnte-Po-ï-nnnte", strong American accent.)

Does Point-point exist? Why yes, in the Oise, on the road to Senlis. One Sunday, Giuseppe Englert, composer and professor at Vincennes, whom Morton Feldman calls Jiuzipee, and his wife who for a long time looked after the American Centre on the Boulevard Raspail, took us to "Point-point".

A very soft sound, an evanescent note, a white point on a bluish white, lots of space, imperceptible trembling, a music on the edge of silence, "points"... The place where "Morty", as his friends call him, stayed for a month to compose, had a name which suited him well!

A garden, very large, silent, that should be called a "park", lined with poplars, with fields of long grass, a rustic house, probably 17th century, light, beautiful because so pure of line and also so simple. It is there that Morton Feldman is writing a work commissioned by his sponsors, the de Menils (related to the Schlumberger family who patronise the arts). They offer him also the place to write it in peace, in complete solitude. It is music for the inauguration of an ecumenical chapel in Dallas for which Rothko made some paintings.

It is while walking in the garden, while eating lunch, while looking at scores spread out on the piano, that, in the course of the day, I collected some thoughts, some memories, some interior music of Morton Feldman.

This big empty pond, with its terraces, its mysterious shape, is not a pond, nor a swimming pool, in the too green grass.

- Water... Simply made to reflect the trees, the sky. Absolutely needed for these reflections. I live here like a monk. I get up at six in the morning, I compose until eleven, then my day is over. I go out, I walk, tirelessly, for hours. Max Ernst is not far away. Cage also came here. I'm cut off from all other activity. What effect does that have on me?

"Very good... But I'm not used to having so much time, so much ease. Usually I create in the midst of a lot of bustle, of work. You know, I always worked at something other than music. My parents were in "business" and I participated in their worries, in their life. In America, we don't have "categories", we are not "professionals"."

"Then, I got married, my wife had a very good job and she was out all day. I got up at six in the morning, I did the shopping, the meals, the housework, I worked like mad and in the evening we received a lot of friends (I had so many friends without even realising it myself). At the end of the year, I discovered that I had not written a single note of music!"

"And yet I cared very much about music!"

We have lunch. He eats with a hearty appetite. He tells jokes, he rages against Stockhausen; the devil. "Stockhausen is a type that hides in the dark and cries ouououh while jumping over you. I tell him: Karl, you don't frighten me..." There are also great moments of silence. I realise while writing that, throughout this day, there were intangible feelings and delicate fleeting sensations, just as in Feldman's music.

Now we are standing by the piano.

- The first piece of music that I remember - heard in my childhood - is the Overture to Benvenuto Cellini by Berlioz. Mitropoulos was the conductor. It was Berlioz that launched me into music! My parents were very poor, but as soon as they understood that I wanted to be a musician, they helped me. One day, my mother gave me some money and said to me: "Here you are, go and buy yourself a piano". And there I am, a kid, twelve years old, at a merchant of Steinway pianos and there were all kinds! Finally, I chose one and my mother had a hard time paying for it. I still have it, it's "my piano", the others are not pianos. My piano always plays Feldman. If you play Chopin, Schumann, Mozart, on my piano it's always Feldman. You understand through this memory why I hold on to it. The one I have at "Point-point" is very good but it's not a piano!

"My piano teacher came from St Petersburg and she made me play a lot of Scriabin. I studied very seriously, I have a good "background". I went to all the concerts in New York but I didn't hear any contemporary music until 1950. John Cage and I were the only ones to look for "something else": the good American composers, Virgil Thompson, Aaron Copland and the others had all worked with Nadia Boulanger, they had been nourished in a French atmosphere. There had been Charles Ives, himself so American. There was Carl Ruggles. But the only one who was a pioneer was Varèse."

"Stravinsky doesn't count; he's a special case."

"But do you know? It's very important to understand that for John Cage and I, Varèse was what Schoenberg was for Boulez and Leibowitz. Varèse is not a formalist. He's an empiricist. Empiricism is a tradition with us. Me too, like Cage, I'm not a formalist, I don't have any pre-established conception of form."

"We liked Webern very much. For the nature of his poetry and not for his theory. I'm like Pierre in War and Peace, an illegitimate child. Cage and I, we are the illegitimate sons of Webern."

"The greatest influence in my life, the most decisive turning, this was Varèse. He fascinated me. And then, he had this extraordinary availability (that so many artists don't have). He came to my concerts, I saw him and spoke with him. He was marvellous. He remained available right up until his death. He lived in a lovely house, his wife was intelligent. I watched how he "survived" without "concerts". His courage. His youthfulness of heart."

"Webern first had a conception, then he chose the sounds."

"Xenakis also first has a conception. Varèse no."

"Then me, I'm the legitimate son of Varèse and Xenakis is illegitimate... Varèse first possessed the sound. Me too. And poetry. In fact, I have no need for "ideas" (in that I differ from Cage; he agrees on our differences). My pupils need them. When they ask me how I compose, I answer them: "I will tell you how you must compose."

"My music sometimes seems mysterious. Part of the mystery comes from the fact that I wait, receptively, then I welcome, I accept... Listen, there are two kinds of people: the type that is only interested in what they understand, and the type that wants at all costs the hermetic mystery, enigmas. The first gets bored when they don't understand, the second is bored when they do understand. Me, I accept poetry, the inexplicable. Things are born in this waiting."

[Morton Feldman Page] [List of Texts]