Book Review: Give My Regards to Eight Street, by Morton Feldman

FeldmanComposer Morton Feldman was a voluble man, but he didn’t write much down. He taught and gave lectures, but his collected writings fit in this book, Give My Regards to Eight Street (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). At just over 200 pages, it contains articles about art and music, and liner notes and program notes for some of his works. While Feldman famously wrote many multi-hour works, in has later phase, his words are more concise. Unlike his friend John Cage, who wrote a number of books, Feldman never published any collection of his writings while alive.

As the publisher’s blurb for this book points out, “While his music is known for its extreme quiet and delicate beauty, Feldman himself was famously large and loud. [...] Feldman’s writings explore his music and his theories about music, but they also make clear how heavily Feldman was influenced by painting and by his friendships with the Abstract Expressionists.” Feldman discusses music, but more often he writes about art. He was strongly influenced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg, all of whom were his friends.

Art was, to Feldman, a way of life. But, as he says:

Art in its relation to life is nothing more than a glove turned inside out. It seems to have the same shapes and contours, but it can never be used for the same purpose. Art teaches nothing about life, just as life teaches us nothing about art.

He writes a lot about art, and how it influenced his music, and, in one lecture given in Frankfurt in 1984, goes into some detail about his music and the way he composes. But this is not a treatise, and there is little real insight into why he composed the way he did, especially in the longer, late works that have been so influential. He didn’t seem to want to go into much detail about those works. He explains some of his processes, but lets the music speak for itself.

This book therefore isn’t a key to Feldman’s music, but it is an entertaining read to better understand his influences, especially those that came from painting. If you appreciate Morton Feldman’s music, you’ll want to read this book to get a better idea of what made the man tick.