Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Deconstructive criticism

An apocryphal tale of Morton Feldman, the ugliest composer who ever lived, reaches me. If it isn't true it ought to be.

Feldman's later music is notorious for its extreme length, and his second string quartet must be one of the lengthiest pieces ever written, clocking up at some 5-6 hours (yes, hours). Understandably, it's rarely performed in its entirety, due to the immense stamina it requires.*

Anyway, the story goes that a young quartet decided to take up the challenge, and having prepared themselves, they played this behemoth through for the composer. Feldman sat quietly through the performance for the full six-odd hours it took to perform it. On finishing, the quartet looked, tired but filled with a sense of achievement, to the composer for his opinion. Feldman stood up and announced:

"That was fucking rubbish."

* I believe the Kronos Quartet, for whom it was written, never performed it in full, although in recent years a couple of recordings have appeared, notably an excellent one by the Flux Quartet on DVD, meaning you can listen to it without having to get up and change the disc. If you've got the guts to sit through it, it's well worth your time.

I suspect the quote is inaccurate, mainly because it's highly unlikely that an eminent American composer would use the word "rubbish". It is, however, entirely probable he'd have used the word "fucking".


Anonymous said...

Being American the composer may have remarked that 'it sucked'.
In the States things are either cool, awesome or they suck.

petemaskreplica said...

I'm not convinced that a middle aged man in the mid-80s would have talked about something sucking.

Erin said...

Nope, but it may have been 'fucking garbage'. That's quite likely.

petemaskreplica said...

a-ha! This sounds very convincing! Maybe we are a little closer to the mysteries of the bad language of American composers :)

Anonymous said...

Gee, you guys are smart!