TM


TRIADIC MEMORIES
(1983, Morton Feldman)

ONE5
(1991, John Cage)

 

offseason productions op226 (two cds, 133 minutes)

reviews of this recording, followed by program notes


“Give the most with the least …It [means] in creation to recognize the essential, and…to create it with the least display of the means that serve as medium of expression.”
——Hans Hofmann

Sound clip (2’30”)

————————————————————–
TRIADIC MEMORIES

John Story,  Fanfare, July/August 2002:

One of the most beautiful piano recordings ever made.  The sound is captured with breathtaking clarity, close enough to register the fine sound of Louis Goldstein’s instrument but without any distracting performance noises.  … This is a truly inspired recording, one that belongs in any serious collection of late twentieth century piano music.

Triadic Memories (1983) is in many ways Feldman’s most beautiful piano work.  Triadic Memories is the Feldman pattern composition par excellance.  Of the three very slow performances, Goldstein is by far the most beautiful. He is an amazingly precise pianist, having the sort of precision in his touch which allows him to generate rhythmic definition at seemingly impossible tempi plus, of course, the sheer seductiveness of his recording.  I am also hoping that he goes on to record the rest of Feldman’s piano music.  … this deserves to become a classic of late twentieth century piano music and is an absolutely obligatory purchase.
*               *               *               *               *               *               *


Grant Chu Covel,
La Folia, Volume 3, Number 2, Jan. 2000:

The year’s best piano release – These two discs had better garner prizes and commendations throughout the industry (we’re wild about it here at La Folia) or else Western Civilization is coming to an end.  Everything comes together in this phenomenally well-recorded 2 CD set. The piano is so rich and so closely miked, and the piano’s tuning is superb.  Louis Goldstein plays with such control and delicacy.  Each and every note unfolds as if it were the most important note in the whole piece, wonderfully articulated and well-placed.

I find myself getting lost in the Feldman and wishing it would never end, savoring the resonance and reverb, and the repetitions of patterns and gestures.  I need to be in the right mood to truly enjoy the Feldman as it’s much like savoring an eagerly anticipated delicacy.  I will have no other recording of Triadic Memories in my collection, and several other recordings of 20th century piano music went out of the house after this one came in.  These two seemingly simple works are expansive and engrossing.  The Feldman is a mammoth piece with precise large and small structural layers lasting over an hour and a half, requiring endurance and commitment for performer and listener.

Goldstein seems endlessly fascinated with the Feldman, and his playing is hypnotic as he explores the work’s wonders.  Seek out this recording. Demand your local outlet carry it, and play it.
*               *               *               *               *               *               *

Rob Haskins, American Record Guide, Nov./Dec. 2000:

Feldman’s Triadic Memories already stands in my mind as one of the most important piano pieces of the 20th century; Goldstein’s new version … makes the piece a real mind-blowing experience.  It’s definitely not for the squeamish; I was disoriented for a couple of hours afterward but I don’t regret a moment.  Goldstein’s the best companion I an imagine for such an experience.  His sound is beautiful, never overpowering; and more important, he’s totally committeed to Feldman’s vision.

*               *               *               *               *               *               *

Mike SilvertonLa Folia, Volume 3, Number 1, Nov. 2000:

No less engaging are the sinister shadings Goldstein applies to the initial minutes of Morton Feldman masterwork, Triadic Memories.  Goldstein segues from one harmonic-rhythmic field to the next with a firm sense of overview. I have no performance of Triadic Memories on recording that attempts to “speak” in quite this way.   The composers of the New York School rely especially heavily on interpretive sensitivities: in the present example, sinuosity over angularity as a matter of consistency, small moments of dramatic intensity, metronomic where necessary, with nothing straining at its leash. I count these CDs invaluable additions to my Cage and Feldman collections.
*               *               *               *               *               *               *

ONE5

John Story,  Fanfare, July/August 2002

One5 is part of the series of “Number” pieces Cage composed in his last five years.  … Here, within the set performance time of roughly twenty minutes, Cage has unevenly distributed approximately one hundred notes.  Sounds are to be sustained as long as possible once generated but given the sparseness of the notes there are enormous stretches where there are no sounds at all.  … the resulting series of individual notes and occasional clusters hovering on the edge of audibility is surprisingly beautiful.  By reducing the volume level to a whisper, Goldstein eliminates even the suggestion of rhetoric …   in terms of sheer beauty, … Goldstein is a hands down winner.
*               *               *               *               *               *               *

Rob Haskins, American Record Guide, Nov./Dec. 2000:

Cage’s Number Pieces are chimeras; the perfect balance between the performer’s freedom and the composer’s constraint makes so many interpretations possible that it’s hard to imagine a definitive one.  …  Goldstein’s already recorded a heavenly version of the Sonatas and Interludes on Greensye;  Goldstein is more lyrical and perceptive; he approaches the music as one of the great piano works, which it is.  His performance of One5 is in the same vein.  All the notes are beautiful, quiet, poignant.

Mike SilvertonLa Folia, Volume 3, Number 1, Nov. 2000:

Permit me to quote Nicholas Slonimsky on Ignacy Paderewski (Baker’s Dictionary of Music, Schirmer Books, 1997): “As an artist, Paderewski was a faithful follower of the Romantic school, which allowed free, well-nigh improvisatory declensions from the written notes, tempos, and dynamics; judged by 20th-century standards of precise rendering of the text, Paderewski’s interpretations appear surprisingly free, but this very personal freedom of performance moved contemporary audiences to ecstasies of admiration.”

I suspect that my response to One5 and Sonatas and Interludes falls remarkably close to those “ecstasies of admiration” of Paderewski’s public. It does seem to this listener that in Louis Goldstein, Cage has his Paderewski. Whatever their virtues, other recorded performances of Sonatas and Interludes are by comparison angular and motoric from the gently curving flow of Goldstein’s approach. But languorous, not.  I’d not have imagined Sonatas and Interludes available to such caressing phrasing — to such volupté. This is of course the quality I heard first in the more recently (and beautifully recorded) One5: a greater sense of languorous delicacy than one normally hears in performances of Cage’s later, Zen-inflected music.

***************************************************************

 PROGRAM NOTES FOR TRIADIC MEMORIES

__________________________________________________________________________
Adapted from “Morton Feldman and The Shape of Time” by Louis Goldstein, in Perspectives on American Music Since 1950, published by Garland Publishing 1999
___________________________________________________________________________

TM CD_Cover
One of Morton Feldman’s primary concerns during the last decade of his life was what he called the ‘scale’ of his composition.  He pointedly distinguished between the words ‘form’ and ‘scale.’  He said that up to about an hour in length, the ear wants to hear ‘form.’  After an hour it’s ‘scale.’  As a comparison, Feldman told of visiting Mark Rothko one day when an assistant was stretching and restretching a canvas to slightly different sizes.  “Rothko was standing some distance away, … deciding whether to bring the canvas down an inch or so, or maybe even a little bit higher.” [32]

Rothko’s scale … removes any argument over
the proportions of one area to another, or over
its degree of symmetry or asymmetry.  The
sum of the parts does not equal the whole;
rather, scale is discovered and contained as an
image.  It is not form that floats the painting,
but Rothko’s finding that particular scale which
suspends all proportions in equilibrium. [33]

Where Rothko found means to make color alone the voice of mood and emotion, Feldman found ways to make sound alone, not its forms or progressions, the means to the same end.  In his late music Feldman aspired to a condition whereby the space of a canvas is a paradigm for the length of a composition.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

With all the attention placed on the liberation of sound in 20th-century music, a more profound and far-reaching liberation has sometimes been ignored: the liberation of time. [34]  Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories is an example of his
work with “Time in its unstructured existence…how Time exists before we put our paws on it… our minds, our imaginations into it.” [35]  His concern with how a musical composition sounds, rather than how it is made, set him on a path toward a new concert experience.  A temporal landscape is created, where memory, the cornerstone of perceiving musical form, is consistently thwarted. [36]

Feldman often arranges sound so that repetitions are recognizable as repetitions, but the patterns of those repetitions are not discernible.  In Triadic Memories and other late compositions there are patterns within patterns and deceptions within deceptions, yet the tastefully rendered sonic result is an exquisite, iridescent beauty unlike any other. [37]  Floating tones and mesmeric harmony are surrounded by eloquent, mysterious silences. [38]  True to a statement made concerning his early graph scores, Feldman is still attempting “to project sounds into time, free from a compositional rhetoric.” [39]

During the course of performing Triadic Memories my own sense of time is stretched and tugged in ways I never before experienced.  There come moments when the unit of time I am measuring in my mind suddenly doubles and simultaneously begins to move at half the previous tempo.  Sometimes I experience beats of time slower than I have ever been able to imagine.  For me, the sublimity of the ending, one hundred minutes into the piece, results from two possible conclusions playing off of each other.  Sometimes the effect is one of utter tragedy, when in spite of great effort, time finally does break down and an awareness of terrifying emptiness is discovered.

Other times I remember the words of the artist-protagonist in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Bluebeard.  Near the end of the novel, explaining his work, he says:

The whole magical thing about our painting…
[and he realizes] this was old stuff in music,
but it was brand new in painting: it was pure
essence of human wonder, and wholly apart
from food, from sex, from clothes, from houses,
from drugs, from cars, from news, from money,
from crime, from punishment, from games,
from war, from peace–and surely apart from
the universal human impulse among painters
and plumbers alike toward inexplicable despair
and self-destruction! [40]
The line between these two opposing conclusions can be a narrow precipice between two canyons.  The listener can find him or herself struggling to maintain footing, and the wind is blowing.  But the problem of relating pictorial space to temporal length might best be left to poets.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Basho (1644-1694) is reported to have said, “Learn about a pine tree from a pine tree, and about a bamboo stalk from a bamboo stalk.”  What he meant, according to an early admirer (Doho),

was that the poet should detach his mind
from self … and enter into the object, sharing
its delicate life and its feelings.  Whereupon
a poem forms of itself. Description of the
object is not enough:  unless a poem contains
feelings which have come from the object,
the object and the poet’s self will be separate
things. [41]

It is revealing to paraphrase that quotation and commentary in terms that apply to Feldman’s compositions:  Learn about Time, from Time. Enter into Time, sharing its delicate life and its feelings.  Whereupon a composition forms itself.  Description of Time is not enough:  unless a composition contains feelings which have come from Time, Time and the composer’s self will be separate things.

Matisse said almost the same thing about painting an object:  “The object must act powerfully on the imagination; the artist’s feeling expressing itself through the object must make the object worthy of interest; it says only what it is made to say.” [42]  Feldman’s music shows the influence of the visual artists who moved beyond the idea of the object as subject, by making time that “object worthy of interest.”

Continuing to paraphrase, but now from an article by A.R. Ammons in the American Poetry Review:  magnificent about music is that it is an action like any other action, yet it stands not as an isolated, esoteric activity, but as a formal and substantive essentializing of all action. [43]

The primary motion of the composer is to put things together and touch a source that feels like life; to put motion together into a sequence of time.  Feldman’s dismissal of traditional structure (and its replacement with “scale”) may lead to a rejuvenation of this element of music (as previous dismissals have led to previous rejuvenations).  Musical composition can once again be revealed as what at its best it has always been: a formal and substantive essentializing of all action.  Composition essentializes the flow of time.

Barn’s burnt down –
now
I can see the moon.

Masahide (1657-1723) [44]


[32] Feldman, “Crippled Symmetry,” in Morton Feldman Essays, ed. Walter Zimmermann (Kerpen, Germany: Beginner Press, 1985), 126.  All subsequent Feldman essays cited are from this collection.

[33] Ibid., 137. Jackson Pollock also agonized over size.  Working on his smaller 1950/51 black-and-whites, he often did several on one large strip of canvas and then cut them.  The artist Lee Krasner (Pollock’s wife) said,

“Sometimes he’d ask, ‘should I cut it here?
Should this be the bottom?  He’d have long
sessions of cutting and editing … Working
around the canvas — in ‘the arena’ as he called
it — there really was no absolute top or bottom.
And leaving space between paintings, there
was no absolute “frame” the way there is
working on a pre-stretched canvas.  Those
were difficult sessions… he’d have last-minute
thoughts and doubts.”

Jackson Pollock: Black and White, (New York: Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1969), 10.

[34] Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond (New York: Schirmer, 1974), 48.  Earle Brown made this statement.

[35] Ibid., 12.

[36] Feldman wrote:

“Western forms have become … a paraphrase of
memory.  But memory could operate otherwise
as well.  In “Triadic Memories”, there is a section
of different types of chords where each chord is
slowly repeated.  One chord might be repeated
three times, another, seven or eight – depending
on how long I felt it should go on.  Quite soon into
a new chord I would forget the reiterated chord
before it.  I then reconstructed the entire section:  rearranging its earlier progression and changing
the number of times a particular chord was
repeated.  This way of working was a conscious
attempt at “formalizing” a disorientation of memory

[the italics are mine].  Chords are heard repeated
without any discernible pattern.  In this regularity
… there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional
and directional, but we soon realize that this is an
illusion:  a bit like walking the streets of Berlin –
where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.”

Feldman, “Crippled Symmetry,” 127.

[37] As Basho said of a good poem, it “is one in which the form of the verse and the joining of its parts seem light as a shallow river flowing over its sandy bed.” Lucien Stryk, “Modern Japanese Haiku,” in American Poetry Review 23/4 (July/August 1994): 19.

[38] Shiki (1867-1902) thought that in sequential composition careful modulation and arrangement of parts gave the work greater breadth and complexity, a vision more complete. Ibid., 21.

[39] Feldman, “Autobiography,” 38.

[40] Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard (New York: Delacorte Press 1987), 294.

[41] Stryk, “Modern Japanese Haiku,” p. 17.

[42] Quoted in Dore Ashton, ed., Twentieth-Century Artists on Art (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 6.

[43] A. R. Ammons, “Poetry Is Action,” American Poetry Review 23/4 (July/August 1994): 13.

[44] Stryk, “Modern Japanese Haiku,” 18.

5CD_Disc1

4CD_BackCover

A faculty WordPress website at WFU