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Morton Feldman (1926- 1987)
Rothko Chapel (1971)

[…] Even more eloquent, following this idea of an instrument symbolizing the initializing function, as a druid in a way, is the role given by Morton Feldman to the viola in Rothko Chapel. Originally conceived to be listened to in the edifice adorned by the paintings commissioned to Mark Rothko, and where the light of Texan skies enters the zenithal openings, the musical work will be in harmony with the ecumenical spirit of the place, dedicated to the quest of a “pure” spirituality, out of any religious reference. The composer wrote “I have tried to create a music that goes along the thin line between the abstraction that defines every art, and the emotional desire that characterizes the fact of being human. The chorus symbolizes abstraction in art, and the solo viola, the need of a human expression.” Thus, the viola is here to reveal the colours, as the only moving spot around which wide the coloured flat tints of the chorus. The image of the role given to the viola therefore appears to me as the role which, in this chapel, would be offered by an imaginary piece of water, a vast liquid expanse, unfaithful mirror of the big red, black, purple canvas painted by Rothko, the surface of which, moreover, would be slowly modified by the changing sunlight.

I have never met Morton Feldman. Still, from pictures I could see, I can remember the image of a big friendly man with a square face covered with large, thick glasses that let you distinguish an amused, almost joking look, his hair carelessly plastered back down, and, most of all, that smile, one of those you can imagine being powerful, disarming, spreading out all around, sparkling like a powder trail. Definitely nothing like an ascetic or a hermit, but on the contrary someone brightly alive, fully tasting its joy, assuming both its contradictions and wonders. It is all the more striking to me when I see how, with his characteristic limited means and lack of ornamentations, he succeeded in creating a unique sound world, all made up of restraint, stemming from a quest for quintessence, as avid and passionate as it is groping and cautious. A transcendence without any avowed goal, that probably carries away its part of nihilism and derision, it may thus leave us full scope for letting the listening bring the highest things that he hopes music can bring.

Christophe Desjardins,
text introducing the disc Voix d’alto, Aeon (AECD 0429)