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Morton Feldman, The King of Denmark (Realization date, 1964)

by Max Neuhaus

The following short text is taken from the liner notes of the CD "The New York School: Nine Realizations by Max Neuhaus" released in 2004 on the Alga Marghen label (22NMN.052). It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Estate of Max Neuhaus.

The piece was written for me to premier at the New York Avant Garde festival in the fall of 1964. Feldman and I had several meetings at my studio on East Tenth Street over the previous summer. He wanted to hear my instruments and explore techniques. With Morty, at that time, it was always about finding ways to play more softly.

In the second or third session, he was still insisting, 'no, it's too loud, too loud'. I suddenly remembered how, as percussion students, we used to practice our parts on stage just before a concert started. In order that the audience not hear us, we used our fingers instead of sticks. I put down my sticks and started to play with just my fingers. Morty was dumbstruck, 'that's it, that's it!' he yelled.

This work is played throughout only with the fingers. Like most of Feldman's music, it is extremely soft and without attacks. The score specifies the relative pitch of each note (high, medium or low), its relative time, and in some cases the specific instruments.

Much of Feldman's music, because it is so soft, has the effect of putting a magnifying glass on that area of dynamic between pianissimo and piano - we find all sorts of things we never saw before. Because of the extremely quiet nature of this piece, much of it can only be heard (at least, in one sense of the word) on a recording.

© Max Neuhaus