Chapter 10

The Next Ten Minutes: Morton Feldman and Samuel Beckett1

Matthew Goulish

§ In shadow

§ p.p.p.

§ Broken comb

§ Grace note

§ For Samuel Beckett

§ The stumbling of the sea

§ Green raincoat

§ Anxiety

§ Vox ignota

It is possible that one should speak here about love, in other words about reality, or the probability of answering the sourceless echo.

Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Description

§ In Shadow

Morton Feldman, a composer and professor of music at the State University of New York at Buffalo, had poor eyesight. He wore thick horn-rimmed glasses. He composed leaning over his desk, face close to paper, inking each note chronologically through the score without correction: ‘no going back’.2 In the spring of 1976 he began preliminary work on an operatic composition with words by Samuel Beckett, a commission from Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera. He completed three works in July that he considered preparations. These he titled Orchestra, Elemental Procedures and Routine Investigations. Orchestra received its premier in Glasgow on 18 September. Feldman attended the concert then travelled to Berlin.3 At midday on 20 September, he arrived at the Schiller Theater, where rehearsals were underway for That Time and Footfalls.

I was led from daylight into a dark theatre, on stage, where I was presented to an invisible Beckett. He shook hands with my thumb and I fell softly down a huge black curtain to the ground.4

Feldman invited Beckett to lunch; Beckett accepted, but only drank a beer. He had no acquaintance with Feldman’s music, and voiced scepticism about the project.

He was very embarrassed – he said to me, after a while: ‘Mr. Feldman, I don’t like opera.’ I said to him, ‘I don’t blame you!’ Then he said to me ‘I don’t like my words being set to music,’ and I said, ‘I’m in complete agreement. In fact it’s very seldom that I’ve used words. I’ve written a lot of pieces with voice, and they’re wordless.’ Then he looked at me again and said, ‘But what do you want?’ And I said ‘I have no idea!’5

Feldman produced a score he had written on lines from the script for Film. Beckett studied this. Feldman recounted the conversation in an interview eleven years later.

He asked me, you know, if he did write something for me, what would he write? Just like I ask people that are close to me. Just what is it exactly and what do you think it actually conveys? You see. People think that you have this subject and then you superimpose the whole compositional or the structural process, which might be true for someone that’s doing a cartoon strip. But for most artists the structural concerns are uppermost and out of it comes the content which you yourself to some degree are ambiguous about. And in this conversation with Beckett he was a little bit ambiguous about exactly what his subject was. I had to tell him [laughs] … at the same time in Berlin, a very close friend of mine was having breast surgery, and she was in a very bad situation. And I said to Beckett, ‘Well, of course, compared to Sarah, you’re comic relief.’ And by ‘comic relief’ I really mean that there’s no … . It’s beyond existentialism, you see, because existentialism is always looking for a way out. If they feel that God is dead, then long live humanity. Kind of Camus and Sartre. I mean, there’s always a substitute to save you in existentialism. And I feel that Beckett is not involved with that, because there’s nothing saving him. … You’re not going to arrive at any understanding at all; you’re just left there holding this – the hot potato which is life. … I never liked anyone else’s approach to Beckett. I felt it was a little too easy; a little too … . Again, they’re treating him as if he’s an existential hero, rather than a tragic hero. And he’s a word man, a fantastic word man. And I always felt that I was a note man. And I think that’s what brought me to him.6

In the course of the Berlin conversation, Beckett confessed that a single theme dominated his work. ‘May I write it down?’ Feldman asked, but Beckett wrote it himself on Feldman’s music paper.

To and fro in shadow, from outer shadow to inner shadow. To and fro, between unattainable self and unattainable non-self.

‘It would need a bit of work, wouldn’t it?’ said Beckett.

At the end of the month, back in Buffalo, Feldman received a card with a note.

Dear Morton Feldman.

Verso the piece I promised. It was good meeting you.

Best. Samuel Beckett.7

The handwritten text on the back of the card began as follows.


to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself

by way of neither8

§ p.p.p.

We cannot understand the manner (call it the method) before we understand its work.

Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason

Not long after Neither, Feldman experienced an extended period of doubt, a crisis he called it, about the work that music does. Is it an art form or simply entertainment? What experience, as an event, can it best accomplish? Perhaps the dramatic breakthroughs he saw unfolding on the canvases of his painter friends, to whom he dedicated compositions (Franz Kline, Philip Guston) precipitated this moment as one he did not want music to miss, this revolutionary breach into which Beckett had also stepped.

Both Beckett and [art critic Harold] Rosenberg recognized that considering painting to be an act, indeed an action of a performance, also transformed language and the possibilities of writing in general. Beckett grasped earlier than most that while art commentary before the war had tended to tell a story about a line, where it went and what it did once it arrived, the art of the postwar abstractionists made the critic’s usual performance impossible. As soon as the painter rejected the idea of the static object to be copied, the critic lost the illusion that criticism was a matter of describing the painting as itself a static object. Beckett’s exuberance about the destruction of this illusion stemmed from his recognition that the new painters were assailing the same kinds of conventions he wanted to abandon in writing. Beckett caught the excitement and energy that spring from giving up one hopeless thing, if only for the brief second before the new thing emerges as hopeless in its own way.9

Beckett’s plays ventured into translational territories, across media, from the visual to the linguistic in an ‘effort to find a language for drama that resonated with painting’s expressive power’.10 Feldman for his part, and in his bafflement, found himself abandoning notions of fixed duration, of audience and of the consequences of critical reception. His next series of compositions culminated in String Quartet (II) (1983), a work of intricate structure that takes nearly 5 hours to perform (4.52.35, as performed by the Ives Ensemble).11 His insistent notation for the dynamic of triple pianissimo fixed the music at audibility’s brink. The guarantee of sustained strain to hear the strings whisper, to differentiate tone from room noise; the extreme demands on attention as when in twilight one works to recognize the barely perceived: can this tenuous edge be the quartet’s labour and reason? In what human circle can such sceptical music meaningfully sound? It is a simpleminded and obvious observation that Beckett laboured under an analogous relationship with not only theatre but also narration and even language. Tentative grip on belief, unsteadiness of the stream of mind, relentless reduction of means and materials (music to notes, text to words) testify to the narrows of the ventures, the zero-degree practice. The pianist John Tilbury said: ‘In rehearsal Feldman would help his performers by describing the sounds as sourceless. He wanted them to take on that precious quality of transience, of uncatchability.’12 In 1987 Beckett suggested Feldman as the composer for a reworked version of his radio play Words and Music, now commissioned by the New York station Voices International.13 Feldman enthusiastically accepted, but worried that the project would redirect him to faster rhythms and louder volumes. With its theatricalization of the music as it engages in a dialogue-like exchange with two voices, a contested primary material between servant and master, Words and Music did necessitate a departure, but Feldman surprised himself by welcoming the changes. He oversaw the production in March and April in New York. Immediately thereafter, he composed For Samuel Beckett for chamber orchestra. It premiered on 12 June in Amsterdam. What precisely might that word of dedication connote? It would be his last dedication. Within days he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died on 3 September 1987 at the age of 61.

§ Broken comb

In a 2012 interview for the Paris Review, the poet Susan Howe rehearsed, with characteristic elegance, the weave of mourning and complexity.

William James says that in times of trauma and crisis a door is opened to a place where facts and apparitions mix. I wrote Frolic Architecture shortly after my husband Peter Hare’s sudden death from a pulmonary embolism in 2008. I was constructing what I thought was a collaged text, often while listening to Morton Feldman’s music and John Adams’s Shaker Loops. As I moved between computer screen, printer, and copier, scissoring and reattaching words and scraps of letters, I thought, I’ve never gone as far or felt as free.14

This license for creation, like mobility – far, free – she finds in Feldman’s orbit. How does his music grant permission? It simply persists. It spools out, unconcerned, occupying microscopically shifting states of mental and emotional exactitude and necessity. Fact or apparition: in Howe’s composite poetry, scraps and remnants speak from and for the dead. The poet finds and frames, to sensitize us to their transmissions. Feldman said in a lecture in Toronto:

And what’s fantastic about music, I find, is that there’s something so impregnable, something – I wouldn’t say it’s mysterious – A remark of Whitehead’s clarified something for me last week. I don’t know what the hell he was referring to – But he said that the reason that something couldn’t be defined is because it was too general. I like that. But not that it was so complicated or so esoteric; it was just like – too general to get a handle on. And that’s the way I feel about music. Just too generalized. Everything is too generalized. Everything to me is like a found object. A major third is a found object, what the hell, you have no right to write a major third – with or without a context. It’s like picking up a broken comb from the floor. Everything. This was when I woke up, that was part of a hallucination, if music could be an art form. Everything sounded like a found object. Everything didn’t seem to be personal. Everything had a fantastic reminiscence about it. Even my own music. And I wrote a piece that I like very much, called Triadic Memories, in which I went ahead and treated everything, even my own invention, my own creation, as a series of found objects, no longer even feeling in a sense that I had the capability of making any kind of poetry out of it.15


§ Grace note

Madame Maurina Press became Morton Feldman’s piano teacher when he was twelve. She came out of the Russian tradition, supposedly having taught the Czar’s children. She had been close to Scriabin and this is what she gave the young Morton to play, along with Busoni transcriptions of Bach. Feldman felt that, because she wasn’t a disciplinarian, she imparted ‘a vibrant musicality’ as opposed to any kind of ‘musicianship.’ Perhaps the Feldman sense of registration, pitch and timbre derive from her tutelage. ‘The way she would put her finger down, in a Russian way of just the finger. The liveliness of just the finger. And produce “B-flat,” and you wanted to faint.’16

In 1970 Feldman composed an elegy for his former teacher, titled Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety.

That title was given to me by my mother. I came back from Europe and called up my mother, and the first thing she said to me was ‘Madame Press died last week at ninety.’17

John Adams conducted the piece in 1991, on a programme built around a particular unsentimental strain in elegiac American music, the origin of which Adams traced to Charles Ives. The programme included Adams’s own composition Eros Piano, about which he wrote:

Eros Piano began as an elegy on the death of Morton Feldman. I was mindful of how John Cage had first described Feldman’s music as ‘erotic’ but then later decided that it was heroic. I have always felt that both of Cage’s descriptions were correct. As examples of extended musical architecture, of a radically new attitude toward the flow of time, Feldman’s works – especially the late ones – are certainly heroic in what they attempt. But on the microscopic level, his music was always sensuous, erotic, obsessed with gradations of touch and the subtlest shifts of color.

Another feature of Feldman’s music … I call the ‘fetish,’ the obsessively reiterated motive or gesture … creating musical structures by lingering over and over on a single small detail. ‘Madame Press’ is a case in point.18

Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety repeats a two-note motif. The first note, extremely brief, a kind of grace note, drops into the lower, longer second note, sustained and dying away – quick attack, slow decay – ‘A coo-coo clock goes off and never stops.’19 The HarperCollins Dictionary of Music has this to say about the grace note:

An ornament played very quickly just before a main note; it is performed just before the beat and gives a sharp accent to the main note. The grace note is usually printed in small type. Its time value is not counted in the rhythm of the measure, being borrowed from the duration of a note either immediately before or immediately after it.20

The grace note of Madame Press is an appoggiatura, a leaning or resting note, of the short type found in Baroque musical ornamentation.21 It strikes a brief harmonic dissonance, the tension of which the main note instantly resolves. For other composers an ornament in excess, the grace note for Feldman becomes the fundament, the drawing near of the horizon. In another touch shared with Beckett, he lowers the threshold of what constitutes an event, theatrical or sonic. In the 50-minute opera Neither, the solo soprano voice commences at roughly 4 minutes, singing the first phrases on an insistent single note assigned to each individual syllable.

to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither

as between two lit refuges whose22

At about the 6-minute point, the introduction of a double grace note steps up to the same repeating note, as if unfolding it into an equally insistent triadic formulation, as the words continue, now with each receiving the triad treatment, a major structural shift within the confines of Neither.

doors once

neared gently close, once turned away from

gently part again23

§ For Samuel Beckett

Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera presented the first performance of Neither on 8 June 1977, conducted by Marcello Panni with a set by Michelangelo Pistoletto. The Italian audiences, finding opera devoid of conventional dramatization unendurable, greeted the performance with tumultuous protests.24 Nearly ten years later, on 30 May 1986, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, with Gunther Schuler conducting, performed Coptic Light, Feldman’s last orchestral work. A remark by the New York Times reviewer that he was ‘the most boring composer in musical history’ left Feldman devastated.25 The following year, the presentation of For Samuel Beckett in Amsterdam marked the final dedication piece. Feldman had composed seven other such dedications through the years: For Bunita Marcus, For Christian Wolff, For Frank O’Hara, For Franz Kline, For John Cage, For Philip Guston and For Stefan Wolpe. The list reads like a circle of artist colleagues, protective perhaps in mutual recognition, as claims to and reminders of community, the conviction (Feldman’s) that ‘the wish and search for community are the wish and search for reason’.26 What precisely might that word of dedication – For – connote? What of Beckett, if anything, prompted or can be located in For Samuel Beckett? Or does the dedication suggest only the coincidental happy timing of friendship? Feldman composed the piece for an ensemble of 15 instruments, with 7 of those doubled: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet and trombone. The single tuba, harp, piano, vibraphone, violin, viola, cello and double bass complete the band of 22.27 The music begins as if already in progress, its start like an interruption. It proceeds as pure extended exposition, no development, no resolution, always restarting. If the instruments ever cohere into sections, such coherence is fleeting, as high horn repetitions insist on a note against the ground of an ever-shifting texture, instruments trading roles in constant circulation. There is something in this single note insistence, the ‘fetish’ that John Adams pinpointed, of ‘cries that have not been smothered by the construction of concepts’,28 cries against the passage of time, ineffable gestures in the wordless world this music maps, ‘at the same time a protest against the irreversible and (thanks to reminiscence) a victory exacted from the irreversible, a means of resuscitating the same in the form of the other’.29

§ The stumbling of the sea

Comparisons of Feldman’s rhythm to ocean waves or to breathing30 miss the dynamic subtlety of the laws that govern both the music and such natural phenomena that it echoes, a dynamic subtlety that is the rhythm’s reason. As the poet Paul Hoover put it, ‘except for the stumbling of the sea, nature has no rhythm. The measure of the … image is that of traffic between two yellow lights.’31 Across the span of a periodic lull, a phrase elongates or foreshortens, yet the listener recognizes a repetition. In the landscape of equivalent if not equal parts, the breath, if it is breathing one thinks of, is irregular, as singular as an organism but communal, like a dissonant flocking in odd pulsations. The body subjects memory, as it does all embodied acts, to the variations of the organic, part habit and part perpetual readjustment. Beckett wrote of something similar in his essay on Proust.

The laws of memory are subject to the more general laws of habit. Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals.32

For Samuel Beckett sits alongside Beckett’s bleakness, an accompaniment like the pulsing vein in the dog’s neck, below the chain, beside the vomit – its exuberance, its love, however unlikely, is insistent: ‘the excitement and energy that spring from giving up one hopeless thing, if only for the brief second before the new thing emerges as hopeless in its own way’.33 Each dedication in its obstinate tenderness acknowledges the inspiration drawn from the admired work of a friend, as listener assumes identity of source. Like Wallace Stevens’s Snow Man,

One must have the mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs.

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.34


All song is bent

by a silent measure

Jay Wright, Music’s Mask and Measure


§ Green raincoat

For the 1976 concert in Glasgow, immediately before his meeting with Beckett in Berlin, Feldman wrote the following programme note.

One of the compositional quirks I’m most lucky about is the almost total state of amnesia immediately after completing a composition. … I write that I’m fortunate about this (the Talmud refers to an Angel of Forgetfulness); what I mean to say is that this broken memory makes possible the never ending stopping of my pen. It is that which you repeat not from memory but from the lack of it which is the ‘substance’ that interests me most.35

Regarding the repeated two-note theme of Madame Press, the questions remain: why those two notes? Why not two other notes? Why not three notes or four? The theme recalls the teacher, or the memory of the teacher evokes the theme. The teacher’s name, spoken by the composer’s mother, invokes the memory of the teacher’s finger touching a key, to which the composer now adds an adult grace note to supplement the child’s B|,. The smallest of fragments retains the whole, found, like a broken comb, in a birdcall from Mozart’s Magic Flute. To use Whitehead’s formulation, repetition gives way to immediacy.

But ‘process’ is the rush of feelings whereby second-handedness attains subjective immediacy; in this way, subjective form overwhelms repetition, and transforms it into immediately felt satisfaction; objectivity is absorbed into subjectivity.36

What thought does this two-note aggregate arouse? After his break with fixed duration, Feldman spoke, in a 1984 interview, of his attempts to perform for any listener the same disorienting breaking of memory from which he claimed he congenitally suffered.

What I’m interested in is not so much memory now, but what happens in a long piece that becomes memorable. And I’m always asking myself, you know, just because you want to say I want to have a madeleine, to taste it again, or I want to go out and smell a flower to … . Just because you set it up, you see, doesn’t mean in a sense that it’s going to become memorable. And I keep on bringing back things, almost as if I’m asking myself, is this the line that’s memorable? And you don’t know what is memorable, what’s not memorable. I was very touched years ago when I saw Krapp’s Last Tape. The thing is just going along, just rolling along, and then he talks about seeing a girl on the other side of a station, a provincial station. And he kept silent. He brings it back, the girl in the green raincoat. And I forgot it. That’s all it was, it was the girl in the green raincoat. That has influenced me very much in my work.37

It is not difficult to imagine Feldman’s interest in the loops and replays of language, the recapitulations of a life, facilitated for the aging Krapp by his tape recorder. Each replay supplants the original, less a repetition than that first time to the nth degree. In the lyrical Rothko Chapel of 1971, Feldman treated the composition’s temporality as a loose musical/autobiographical chronology, tracking through his life’s stages.

The piece begins in a synogoguey type of way; a little rhetorical and declamatory. And as I get older the piece gets a little abstract, just like my own career. … Then there is the tune in the middle of the piece, a dialogue between a soprano and tympani and viola, which was a little Stravinsky on purpose: I wrote that tune the day Stravinsky died [6 April 1971] … and the piece ends with the memory of a piece that I wrote when I was 14.38

The impulse of the musical self-quotation, this youthful viola tune that he elsewhere referred to as a ‘photograph’,39 gives way in the late works to the revelation of the perfect fragment. Written or found, appropriated or invented, the question dissolves if the fragment remains. The disorientations of inexact repetition that play out in real time are not simply the product of slippage between one iteration and the next. The disorientation is one of the permeability of the self, of the individual as a succession of individuals, hearing and rehearing anew a sourceless echo, repeated not from memory but from its lack, until unexpectedly the broken memory disgorges a fantastic reminiscence. ‘What remains of all that misery?’ Krapp asks into his tape recorder. ‘A girl in a shabby green coat, on a railway-station platform? No?’40

§ Anxiety

If Waiting for Godot contemplated what cyclical time makes visible or the world that waiting brings into view,41 Krapp’s Last Tape ruminates on those sounds that become audible in unmeasured time’s circumambulations: those sonic events, those voices, one recognizes as one’s own. For his latest (last) tape, recorded after playing again one particularly heartfelt confession, Krapp dictates:

Just been listening to that stupid bastard I took myself for thirty years ago, hard to believe I was ever as bad as that. Thank God that’s all done with anyway.42

Each replay marks an increased distance from the moment of recording. The effect confers on each self-fragment the appearance of artefact. Such artefactualization dismantles and reforms the self, in all its flimsy ephemerality and stubborn depth, against a background of darkness and silence. ‘Be again, be again’, the old man muses into his microphone and ‘What’s a year now?’ before his recursive speech gives way to distracted song.



Now the day is over,

Night is drawing nigh-igh,

Shadows – [coughing, then almost inaudible] – of the evening

Steal across the sky.43

In his lecture notes for a brief consideration of anxiety, Roland Barthes, citing Freud (‘There is something about anxiety that protects its subject against fright’), wrote: ‘often, I’ve been told, birdsong, a song of suffering and of anger’.44 Those feelings that cannot be spoken must be sung to keep back the frightful engulfing silence. In one still moment, the stage directions describe Krapp’s lips moving without sound as he listens as his younger self listens and speaks at once: ‘Past midnight. Never knew such silence. The earth might be uninhabited.’ The line comes very near the end. The end of what? The tape, his life, the play, the world. ‘One comes out of a Theatre to find oneself in another Theatre.’45 In his 1965 lecture The Anxiety of Art, Feldman wrote:

Where in life we do everything we can to avoid anxiety, in art we must pursue it. This is difficult. Everything in our life and culture, regardless of our background, is dragging us away. Still, there is this sense of something imminent. What is imminent, we find, is neither the past nor the future, but simply – the next ten minutes. The next ten minutes. … We can go no further than that, and we need go no further. If art has a heaven, perhaps this is it.46

The idea anticipates the strange temporalities of his last compositions, the intricate minutiae of each momentary tonality spooling out in boundless durational extrusion. He might have exchanged ‘imminent’ (impending) for ‘immanent’ (inherent), the word so favoured of philosophy. He might have said that in addition to the present being all there is, inhering in the present is the fact of perishing. Each moment dies away, as we will die away, as others have died away before us. In waiting a world comes into view, but one must wait, or participate in the apparatus that makes the viewing possible, in order for the worldhood of such a world to announce itself.47 So it is with close listening, the mode of attention that constitutes art’s utopian afterlife. Attending to each note – quick attack, slow decay – becomes an act of mourning.

§ Vox ignota

Feldman’s String Quartet (II) makes its impossible demands of attention on the listener. Its relentlessness echoes the unbroken prose of The Unnameable, the third in Beckett’s trilogy of novels. Beckett’s words and Feldman’s notes both seem to begin in medias res, as if any reader or listener’s arrival interrupts the infinite flow. The experience that these works frame and structure, although exhausted, or, as Gilles Deleuze famously said, following the exhaustion of the possible in all its permutations,48 paradoxically proceeds with its own exuberance, persisting well past any recognized meagre human limits. ‘Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on. … Perhaps that is how it began.’49 But what am I writing? This is not solely an exercise in determining commonalities between these two artists. In one moment from his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein asked:

Well, how do I know [how to continue]? … If that means ‘Have I reasons?’ the answer is: my reasons will soon give out. And then I shall act, without reason.50

Wittgenstein’s ‘giving out’ may be another name for exhausting the quotidian possible, the simple permutation of all combinatorial patterns of notes, of stones in one’s pockets, of memories or inventions, of reason and the reasonable. (All sources recede into darkness.) The crossroads have been reached and passed. The imaginary future when reason has given out might as well be now. Let’s say that it is. How do we behave then? What words do we speak? What music do we make?

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,

Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done.51

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.52

In the time when time is no more, freed from duration, in death’s wake and the state of perpetual loss, after we have lived to witness our own funerals, when we have never gone so far, nor felt so free, to what voice do we attend? Vladimir Jankélévitch, philosopher of music, put it this way.

It is silence that allows us to hear another voice, a voice speaking another language, a voice that comes from elsewhere. This unknown tongue spoken by an unknown voice, this vox ignota, hides behind silence just as silence lurks behind the superficial noise of daily existence.53

Perhaps the whisper of Feldman’s music was never more than this: a sonic analogy for his permanent condition of a limited visual field, translating his need to look closely, that is, with one’s eyes close to the object of study, into an imperative for others to listen closely, I mean nearly, to the source: to draw closer. He and Beckett shared the same silence. Maybe that accounted for their peculiar bond, despite the celebrated contrasts of their personalities. Unlike the benign void of his compatriot John Cage, from which sonic events would reliably, miraculously issue like mushrooms from imperceptible spores, Feldman’s silence promised no such turning back from absence to presence. Silence operates as his music’s threat, not absence at all, but abyss, the only reliable presence, not zero but nothing. It pressurizes his sounds with imminent oblivion. Beckett’s words and Feldman’s notes must refuse to acquiesce and insist on, even struggle for, audibility, their survival. The limited means by which they do so, their astringent vocabularies, testify to their irreducibility: notes and words like kernels left from the harrow. Out of the silence after the end of time they whisper one last unlikely song, traces of a voice, unknown, familiar.


1 With thanks to Judith Leemann for additional Feldman research.

2 Morton Feldman, Morton Feldman Says: Selected Interviews and Lectures 1964–1987, ed. Chris Villars (London, 2006), p. 237.

3 Sebastian Claren, ‘A Feldman Chronology’, trans. Christine Shuttleworth, in Feldman, Morton Feldman Says, p. 270.

4 James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York, 1996), p. 556.

5 Ibid., pp. 556–7.

6 Feldman, Morton Feldman Says, p. 232.

7 Knowlson, Damned to Fame, p. 557.

8 Morton Feldman, Neither [opera, words by Samuel Beckett], hat[now]ART 102 (Basel, 1997).

9 Peggy Phelan, ‘Lessons in Blindness from Samuel Beckett’, Publication of the Modern Language Association 119/5 (Oct. 2004): 1279–88 (pp. 1284–5).

10 Ibid., p. 1281.

11 Morton Feldman and the Ives Ensemble, String Quartet (II), hat[now]ART, CD 4-144 (Basel, 2001).

12 John Tilbury, ‘On Playing Feldman’, available at <>.

13 Beckett withdrew an unsatisfactory version of Words and Music from public circulation in 1966 (Feldman, Morton Feldman Says, p. 229; Claren, ‘A Feldman Chronology’, p. 274).

14 Maureen N. McLane, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 97: Susan Howe’, Paris Review 203 (Winter 2012): 144–69 (p. 158).

15 Morton Feldman, Toronto Lecture: April 17th 1982, Mercer Union Gallery, Toronto, Canada, transcribed by Linda Catlin Smith, available at <>.

16 Ingram Marshall, ‘Notes on the Program’, in American Elegies, John Adams Conducts the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Elektra Nonesuch, CD 79249-2 (New York:, 1991).

17 Feldman, Morton Feldman Says, p. 47.

18 Marshall, ‘Notes on the Program’.

19 Ibid.

20 Christine Ammer (ed.), The HarperCollins Dictionary of Music (New York, 1995), p. 169.

21 Ibid., p. 12.

22 Feldman, Neither.

23 Ibid.

24 Claren, ‘A Feldman Chronology’, p. 271.

25 Ibid., p. 274.

26 Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p. 20.

27 Morton Feldman, For Samuel Beckett, Classic Production Osnabrück, CD 999 647-2 (Georgsmarienhütte, Germany, 1999).

28 Isabelle Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2011), p. 42.

29 Vladimir Jankélévitch, Music and the Ineffable, trans. Carolyn Abbate (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, 2003), p. 97.

30 Peter Niklas Wilson, ‘Capturing the Moment: Morton Feldman’s For Samuel Beckett’, liner notes to Morton Feldman, For Samuel Beckett.

31 Paul Hoover, Sonnet 56 (Los Angeles, 2009), p. 64.

32 Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York, 1957), p. 8.

33 Phelan, ‘Lessons in Blindness from Samuel Beckett’, p. 1285.

34 Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems, ed. John N. Serio (New York, 2009), p. 7.

35 Morton Feldman, Musica Nova: Third Festival of Contemporary Music in Glasgow (programme booklet, 1976), cited in Morton Feldman, Morton Feldman, Col Legno, CD 20070 (Frankfurt, 2001).

36 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York, 1978), p. 155.

37 Morton Feldman in conversation with John Mackenzie, November 1984, available at <>.

38 Feldman, Morton Feldman Says, p. 66.

39 Ibid., p. 93.

40 Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape, in The Collected Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett (New York, 1984), p. 58

41 See Phelan, ‘Lessons in Blindness from Samuel Beckett’.

42 Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape, p. 62.

43 Ibid.

44 Roland Barthes, The Neutral, trans. Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier (New York, 2005), pp. 208, 259 n.; see Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York: Bantam, 1959), p. 30.

45 Hélène Cixous, Zero’s Neighbor Sam Beckett, trans. Laurent Milesi (Cambridge, 2010), p. 64.

46 Morton Feldman, Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman, ed. B.H. Friedman (Cambridge, 2000), p. 32.

47 Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects (Durham, NC, and London, 2007), p. 109.

48 Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis, 1997), pp. 152–74.

49 Samuel Beckett, The Unnameable (London, 1994), p. 293.

50 Wittgenstein quoted in Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p. 19.

51 Walt Whitman, ‘A Clear Midnight’.

52 Walt Whitman, ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’.

53 Jankélévitch, Music and the Ineffable, p. 151.

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