Occasionally the Truth Is Spoken

This quote from the great Morton Feldman, supplied by Jodru, deserves its own entry:

“There is something rotten here, and we don’t have to go to Denmark to look for it. It’s not the public. That was always a lie. It’s not the mass media. A bigger lie. It’s not the capitalist system – another lie. It’s my colleagues. My fellow American composers. The most pedantic, the most boring, ungenerous bunch of human beings one can meet on an earth so crowded with the last men that hop and make it smaller and smaller. This earth, I mean.

“It’s the college boys that are deciding what’s what in America. I’ll leave them with their judgement. I’ll leave America with my fame.”

I’d set it to music, but it’s already music. Go to Jodru to vote on whether you agree with it or not.


  1. says

    Another favorite (from Boola Boola):
    “…they have created a climate that has brought the musical activity of an entire nation down to a college level.”

  2. Michael Gogins says

    Feldman himself became a college professor, although of course late in life, after working for his father for many years while composing on his own time.
    Also, Feldman’s music is little known or esteemed by the general public, even the concert-going public.
    I think there is a deeper thing going on here, what might be called a turn to esoterism in the fine arts. This is visible in every art form. I hardly think Feldman is an exception. Indeed, to me, Feldman’s complaint sounds like rhetoric from a dispute between two esoteric schools.
    Fame — to whom?
    That said, I love much of Feldman’s music, and it, along with his general approach to music, has influenced me deeply. As it has many composers.
    Mike Gogins

  3. says

    “Feldman himself became a college professor, although of course late in life”
    Feldman as the “Edgard Varèse” professor might have taught in a style perhaps considered !!vusschließlich verboten!! by some college of the arts, no?
    We should ask Kyle, didn’t he study under Feldman for a brief period?
    I’ll take his word for it. The quote reminds me of a Chopin quote re: fellow musicians in Paris
    “I don’t know where there can be so many pianists as in Paris, so many asses and so many virtuosi” – chopin
    KG replies: Whether Feldman’s teaching was all that different, I don’t have a broad enough experience (with Feldman or other teachers) to say. But the fallacy that, if you criticize music professors in general, and then get a teaching job, all your criticisms are thereby automatically invalidated, has to be about the silliest fallacy in the history of music. It ought to be enshrined on a pedestal somewhere, for people to wonder at and laugh at.

  4. David Cavlovic says

    Wow! If I hadn’t known it was Feldman who had said that, I would have sworn it was a (justifiably) disgruntled Canadian composer totally frustrated with the “University Buddy System of Old Boys” that rules up here. If you are not politically connected with some of the “New Music” organizations, especially in Toronto, forget it!

  5. says

    I think this was true when Feldman was alive — I certainly remember some particularly vociferous professors who believed it was Their Way Or The Highway. But in the last fifteen or so years, the larger number of styles ‘allowable’ has also allowed the Academics to relax their stringent ideas about what is and what is not The Style To Write In.

  6. Michael Gogins says

    KG: you are quite correct that a fallacy can be inferred from my remarks, and I stand corrected.
    But I did not mean to invalidate Feldman’s criticism, I was saying that he was perhaps being a little hypocritical.
    But of course, when I made my remarks, and also now, I do not know the chronology of Feldman’s remarks relative to his tenure as a professor. If you know, could you let us know?
    Finally, I must say that I find myself personally in an anomalous position. I am not a professor or a student, I am an independent composer of computer music. Yet I have presented a piece and some papers at various ICMCs so obviously I feel some connection with that rather academic world, in which I feel as much at home as I do anywhere, which isn’t saying much at all.
    Yet again (again), my perception of the music at the ICMC concerts is rather similar: there is a kind of ruling style, which has been in place for far too long. I am not so sure about whether this reflects a spirit of conformity, or merely the general level of imagination, or is the consequence of a focus more on academic research and career versus composition. Or what.
    And also I have heard some marvelous music at the ICMCs, notably Tangram by Robert Normandeau.
    Mike Gogins
    KG replies: Of course I’m in the same position as Feldman, so this is a pretty personal issue. You almost seem to think that, once composers get teaching jobs, their worldview must get entirely changed by the institution. There is some of this, but it’s far less likely in the case of composers who didn’t get teaching jobs until later in life, like Feldman, Rochberg, and myself. I have to deny that it’s hypocritical. I figure Feldman went to SUNY thinking what I thought when I came to Bard, that we’d help change academia, and provide a different and badly needed viewpoint on the inside. His comment may reflect the same frustration I feel, upon realizing that no one person can change academia, that the institution inherently bestows a certain kind of power on a certain kind of person, and if you don’t toe the line, then the best you can ever hope for is just to successfully protect the few students under your direct control. I have some good, honest friends in academia, and we get together and criticize academia every week, because the professors who kiss ass, play the game, and grab the petty power available are the ones who end up setting the tone for the institution, and the rest of us just try to minimize the damage. Our behavior is not the kind that academia rewards, yet we trudge along, preferring our integrity and the rapport with our students to the percs that rain down on our less principled colleagues. I suppose I could quit, sell my house and move to a tiny apartment, and let the bad academics take over completely, but that hardly strikes me as the morally superior solution.
    As for the ICMC culture, that question has been around since I was in college. I guess the composers who write the ICMC kind of music know how to self-select.

  7. Michael Gogins says

    Thanks for your comments.
    I guess I’m pretty much in agreement as to self-selection, but the depth of scorn you and Feldman evince kind of sets me back. Whatever. Best of luck in your jobs, both of them.
    KG replies: Well, when a colleague cancels a performance of a student composition because it contains “too many whole notes,” when I hear (from his student Alvin Curran) that Elliott Carter wouldn’t allow his students to bring in music containing octaves, when a student flees to me because his previous teacher disallowed pieces with a steady beat, I get pretty scornful. The profusion of idiot prohibitions and mandates in the composition world is overwhelming sometimes.