Morton Feldman: Triadic Memories (YAN.001)

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Morton Feldman
Triadic Memories

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded and mixed in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

Around fifty solo piano pieces are attributed to composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987), whose relationship with the instrument was like that of light to prism. This studio recital by Pascale Berthelot, recorded in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at La Buissonne, marks the inaugural release in the studio’s CUICATL imprint, dedicated to documenting world-class performances of contemporary classical material.

Triadic Memories, written for Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi in 1981, is a cartography not only of triads and memories as self-contained entities but also of the ways in which each informs the other. Arpeggiated chords mark ephemeral borders; motifs are recycled and transformed. Every shade comprises a vocabulary of solitary travel. In the words of Feldman himself: “In this regularity (though there are slight gradations of tempo) there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin—where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.” Thus, Feldman’s interest in duration over rhythm (or, as Louis Goldstein puts it, “[h]is concern with how a musical composition sounds, rather than how it is made”) takes precedence, just as one’s footsteps might give the illusion of regularity yet, upon closer scrutiny, reveal endless possibilities. Like a child learning how to walk yet whose comportment speaks of an innate knowledge passed down genetically, cosmically, from body to body (if not soul to soul), Triadic Memories recalibrates the parameters of our attention span until we no longer feel present in ourselves. And just as we are about to get stuck, we find our equilibrium restored, over and over, until only beauty remains to show for our passage.

One of the missions of CUICATL is to include pieces appropriate for conservatory students to learn and play. In this case, it is Feldman’s Piano Piece of 1952. Despite its more rigid structure and shorter duration, it feels less welcoming than Triadic Memories. Premiered by David Tudor in 1959, it has been rarely recorded since. Its score suggests not melodies but organisms. These we can hold as one might hold a newborn and watch them grow in a space where the air shapes itself as a sentient, physical substance. This is character of Feldman’s music: its willingness to let contradictions speak as the fully formed individuals they are rather than stand before the court of our scrutiny as selves divided between prosecution and defense.

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