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Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (Marc-André Hamelin) CD 27612
[Hyperion]

Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (Marc-André Hamelin) CD 27612
"You are about to enter a world unlike any other. A universe of sound completely unrelated to the narrative, linear musical physiognomies we are all used to. With For Bunita Marcus Feldman has managed to wipe the slate clean and invent a world which has its own laws, which must be dealt with in its own terms. It is also a domain of extreme economy of means, both in its radically reduced dynamics and in its uncommon textural sparseness. The miraculous thing, though, is that there are so many dimensions within this seemingly limited material that it is entirely possible for the listener to understand the music in many different ways, and also to be affected by it in different ways.

The first time I sat down at the piano to read Feldman’s piece, I initially experienced a beautiful sense of liberation. In all my years of exploring the more obscure regions of the literature for my instrument, I’d never felt anything like it. A seventy-two-minute stretch of delicate, triple-piano textures with the damper pedal held constantly down is not something that any amount of exposure to traditional repertoire could ever prepare pianists for. But as the piece unfolded I was carried through a conflicting host of impressions, and it became clearer and clearer to me that a single hearing of it could never reveal the myriad ways in which the work can be listened to and understood.

One example: as the work unfolded under my fingers, a parallel with Jorge Luis Borges’ unsettling short story The Library of Babelsuggested itself to me—even if it was likely not intended by Feldman. It is one of the most startlingly original pieces of fiction ever written. The narrator introduces us to a universe, actually The Universe, in the form of a library that stretches to presumably infinite dimensions; any of its tomes is one possible permutation of all the letters which can be contained within a 410-page book, and the contents of any of these books could mean everything or nothing. In Feldman’s piece, as with the universe that Borges presents us with, time has become irrelevant, pitches secondary, and every moment is a window toward the infinite. Form as we know it has virtually disappeared.

But the many-sidedness of the piece can also cause us to perceive it in very opposite ways; its stasis could be felt as soothing as well as really terrifying—either as an oasis of purity or as the antithesis of infinity: a frightening, claustrophobic, hermetically enclosed universe. As in Borges, the pitches and the sentences they form could be elements of any kind of language, and as such could potentially signify anything.

I also realized that, perhaps for the first time ever, someone had managed to achieve a total transformation of the ‘piano piece’ as ‘piano piece’, forcing us to shunt aside all expectations brought about by the so-called concert literature. This is no longer about the performer, the performance, the pianistic display, the social occasion. We are now dealing purely with sound, time, and space. This is why it is impossible to imagine For Bunita Marcus fitting within regular recital programming. And so it must be relegated to contemporary music festivals—where it will tend to invite a different and more sympathetic kind of listening—or recordings. Even traditional, seasoned concert-goers would be unlikely to want to accept the kind of experience that Feldman offers here.

But it is a colossal offering. An invitation to enter an alternate reality. A chance to meander through wall-less rooms, watching the impossible swing of a four-dimensional pendulum, while enclosed in a nothingness in which sound is somehow allowed to penetrate and live."

Marc-André Hamelin © 2017

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