Morton Feldman in three senses
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"It’s very difficult for us to listen to something, or to look at something, outside of its style,” Morton Feldman told an audience in 1986. “We don’t know the skills that went into it… Until we’re reeducated not to think of art in terms of aesthetics or style, we really don’t know what it is.” The three chapters of this thesis attempt to capture Morton Feldman’s thought and music in three different ways: addressing, processes of thinking, feeling, and doing (or, analogously, the subjects of historical context, experiential aesthetics, and material practices). The first chapter provides an intellectual history of modern music, c.1950 through a comparative study of writings and interviews with Pierre Boulez, John Cage, and Feldman. Drawing analogies between specific aural and visual sensations, in the second chapter I use the work of abstract painters and sculptors including Jules Olitski, Donald Judd, and Morris Louis to illuminate the effects of silence, surface, space, and saturation in Feldman’s music. In the third chapter, I bear down on Feldman’s last decade, highlighting a shift in the composer’s late style, around 1985. I look at certain aspects of his late compositions relative to the composer’s interest in nineteenth-century nomadic Turkish carpets, emphasizing aspects of patterning and asymmetry in each. Finally, I discuss the radical compositions of Feldman’s last years, using Jules Olitski’s 1970s paintings, in their relation to earlier gestural abstraction, to illuminate issues of scale and naturalism.