Notes and Editorial Reviews
Steffen Schleiermacher (pn)
MDG 613 1512 (80:46)
dates from 1981, just six years before his death, and is one of his increasingly vast monuments. Actually, that term is too “aesthetic” and anthropocentric. Perhaps a better one would be “landscapes”—not only is it more evocative of the vast neutral space of this music, but also of its undeniably American qualities (even though it has nothing to do
with Puritans, gangsters, or cowboys).
The sound bite for Feldman’s music is usually that it’s slow, soft, spare, a kind of non-motoric minimalism. True, but only on the surface. The more we get used to his practice, the more variety and constantly morphing change we hear in these immense sonic canvases. While there are large expanses based on a single idea, within them that idea is developed, albeit in a way that refuses to lead to a definitive conclusion. In fact, the more I hear Feldman, the more he seems to fit in the paradigm of motivic development Schoenberg ascribed to Brahms in his essay “Brahms the Progressive”; it’s just that unlike Brahms (or Schoenberg), Feldman denies traditional musical teleology (goal-directedness). Indeed, the only long-range change this listener detects is that the rate of change between ideas seems to accelerate near the work’s end. It’s almost as though Feldman doesn’t want to let go of the music, that he keeps trying to renew it against its tendency to die out.
Ewig . . . ewig . . .
One thing that also is becoming clearer is that this music has roots in other styles; it’s not as abstract as we first thought. The opening motive of
has the rhythmic profile of 1-2-(3 4) / 1-(2 3 4), where the beats in parentheses represent held notes. Played at Schleiermacher’s tempo, it begins to sound a little like a cakewalk, or vaguely ragtime. At another point there are rippling arpeggios that feel Chopinesque. The “memories” in this piece are more real than many may have first thought.
The piece has no tempo marking, and thus different realizations vary widely in duration. Looking over the competition, it seems to me the most viable alternative to Schleiermacher is Marilyn Nonken on Mode 136. She stretches the piece about 15 minutes longer, and her recording has a series of indexes that help one move back and forth through it more easily than MDG’s single marker. The flip side, though, is that the recording is available in single disc format only as an audio DVD (it is also released as a two-disc CD). And while this is becoming ever less of an issue (you can always play it on your laptop, hooked up to your amplifier, if you don’t use a DVD unit for playback), it still may be an impediment to some listeners who want an uninterrupted experience of the piece. Schleiermacher’s performance is sensitive to the aesthetic, and while it may have slightly more overall momentum, it doesn’t feel hurried. This is a case where listeners will have to make their own choice. And frankly, if you have the luxury, get both.
One can ask who has time nowadays to take off 90 minutes to listen to a delicate, almost ephemeral piano piece. But one can also ask when today we are so harried that we can barely locate our own bodies from one instant to the next, who can afford not to.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Triadic Memories by Morton Feldman
Steffen Schleiermacher (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1981; USA
Length: 80 Minutes 44 Secs.
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