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A Note on "Five Pianos"

by Morton Feldman

The US premiere of Feldman's piece Five Pianos (1972) took place in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York State, on October 28th, 1972. The performers were William Appleby, David Del Tredici, Julius Eastman, Lukas Foss and Feldman himself. The performance lasted about 43 minutes. It was the first concert of the 1972 Fall season for the series, Evenings for New Music. Feldman wrote the following note for inclusion in the programme for the concert. Note: Five Pianos was originally called Pianos and Voices. During the piece, the pianists also hum. [Concert information provided by John Bewley of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Music Library.]

* * *

Pianos and Voices began by finding myself humming tones while improvising on the piano. The vocal or humming sounds were quite short, and as the piano sounds lingered, I began to hear other pianos, other humming. Two, three, four pianos were too transparent - the fifth piano became like the pedal blur needed to complete the overall sound I was after.

An occasional celeste was added to give the music a more heightened (or brighter) surface which emerges and disappears throughout the work. A recurring ostinato heard in all the pianos (the figure never repeats itself in the same tempo) [is] another aspect of a "surface" appearing and dissolving into this almost flat, Byzantine canvas.

Commissioned by the Berliner Musiktage, I finished composing the work towards the end of January (1972) for its premiere the following July. The performers were John Cage, David Tudor, Cornelius Cardew, Frederick Rzewski and myself.

György Ligeti, after the performance, commented on the ostinato-like motif which was new to my music. He said that it was very effective, though preferring my more chordal approach without any added elements. In his own decisive and charming way, he finished the discussion with: "Don't do it again." I'll try not to.

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