morton feldman: violin and string quartet


I’m going to call attention to this one late work of Feldman’s in particular because my impression has been that it is underappreciated and underperformed. Granted, with the possible exceptions of Rothko Chapel, The Viola in My Life series and Triadic Memories, all of Feldman’s music is underperformed, period. But among his late works, most of which are of greater length than his earlier works, Violin and String Quartet just seems a bit neglected. I have heard only one recording, which was the first release of the piece and it’s a great performance, that just doesn’t seem enough. Granted, there is a second recording on the obscure hat[now] ART label, but it’s hard to come by and is very expensive. Interestingly, I never hear of VASQ getting performed, even in relatively Feldman-friendly turf like Germany and other parts of the EU. And unlike some of Feldman’s more ”popular“ music, popular being relative here, VASQ has yet to be released on a mass market label.

It’s a shame, because VASQ is an incredible piece. The opening, which goes on for a long time (the piece is around two hours long in one continuous section), recalls the opening of another late work, For Christian Wolff (which clocks in just under four hours), but that’s about the only musical resemblance.VASQ covers a lot of ground in its two hours, especially in the last half hour, where there are a series of chords (often with a near-simultaneous note played pizzicato in a single stringed instrument) that would be worth waiting for even if the first 90 minutes were boring. But the great thing is that the first 90 minutes are anything but boring. Admittedly, this is not likely to be a piece that would be performed by most string quartets. For starters, there is the need to add in a third violinist. Then there’s the length. And the music itself might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But in a musical world where works for multiple string combinations are often performed and recorded, I don’t entirely understand why this work of Feldman’s is not performed more often, even by ensembles that have taken on the challenges inherent in Feldman’s two string quartets (the second of which clocks in anywhere from 4-6+ hours).

On the other hand, at least one is fortunate that there are two recordings of VASQ. There are all too many composers who never have anything recorded or performed. Still, Violin and String Quartet is a work that more people should experience. I also think it might be one of Feldman’s more accessible late works.