The soft option: the legacy of Morton Feldman’s music in the context of the experimental music tradition in the UK and North America since the 1960s

Allman, Spencer Richard (2020). The soft option: the legacy of Morton Feldman’s music in the context of the experimental music tradition in the UK and North America since the 1960s. University of Birmingham. M.A.

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Morton Feldman is one of the key experimental composers of the so-called New York School, informally presided over by John Cage in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The purpose of this study is to explore his legacy for other composers in this category who were either younger contemporaries of Feldman or who started to compose considerably later, and, furthermore, to test a hypothesis that Feldman has been a decisive point of reference for music experimentalists. First there is an account of what experimental music is and an attempt at its definition – at least, in the world of ‘classical’ music – according to writers on the subject. At the same time, Feldman’s inclusion in the experimental music scene is assessed and confirmed, again with reference to the available literature. This is followed by a description of Feldman’s output from around 1950 up till his death in 1987, and its evolution. A qualitative survey is then undertaken to gauge the opinions of nineteen experimental composers on Feldman’s importance and influence, both generally and personally. For certain reasons explained here, these composers are all based in the UK and North America. The dissertation ends with a comparative framework wherein the music of these composers is examined alongside that of Feldman, where this is deemed appropriate. The findings of both the survey and the analysis that follows do indeed show that Feldman’s approach to composition has been a source of inspiration for many experimentalists, although, at the same time, no single composer seems to have succumbed to mere imitation of Feldman’s style. Feldman, then, remains an independent voice, even if there are two aspects of his work that have clearly had a major impact – his penchant for low dynamics and the general air of restraint that pervades his music.

Type of Work: Thesis (Masters by Research > M.A.)
Award Type: Masters by Research > M.A.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Music
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music


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