Morton Feldman was an icon in new music…and my teacher. He was inside the incubator that was the New York music and art scene in the 1950s. His influences were not other composers, but the abstract expressionist painters that he would close the Cedar Tavern with on a regular basis…deKooning, Guston, Rauschenberg, Kline, Rothko…

But he was also a riot, a large man with long, slicked back hair and a Bronx accent so thick that I sometimes wished his lectures were close-captioned. He commanded the room. His patience was legendary. His students learned to stifle moans when, at the end of a two-hour piece we were listening to during class, he’d say, “play that again…” and he’d just sit back, and listen with his eyes closed. His metaphors were dense and, often indecipherable (for example, to a Hungarian graduate student in Morty’s orchestration class who was going on and on about Bartok – “Just because you invented paprika doesn’t mean you use it in every dish”). To this day, I wonder about the connection between rats, James Bond, and composing.

When you handed a piece of your music to Morty, you held your breath. He’d look at what you’d written, he’d look at it, listen to it in his head or at the piano…and listen to it again…and again, and he wouldn’t so much critique as pronounce. “Yeah, this is alright.” Alright was reason to celebrate.

12 comments on “Morty

  1. Al Kryszak says:

    Oh Craig! You nailed it. Great to hear a fellow student of Morty. If new music was always that funny, composers wouldn’t be so unpopular. Remember my sax quartet & orchestra comment from Morty? I brought you in to my lesson so the vitriol wouldn’t be wasted on me alone. (“are we ever gonna get out of here?”

    Boy he really disliked my trio as well: “sounds like music from the suburbs of Argentina”. Have a great spring in VT
    Al k

  2. Mark Christopulos says:

    I rather like the music of suburban Argentina, Al. Craig, I know you have many more Feldman quotes–some we will keep to ourselves.

    Everyone must lie on the floor and listen to “The Viola in my Life.”

    Reading the recent story about the restoration of those amazing Rothkos stowed away in a basement at Harvard had me returning to “Rothko’s Chapel.”

    Mark C

    • Al Kryszak says:

      Thanks Mark. How are you? Craig, Can’t believe I saw this posting tonight at 10 pm as I just moved to Maine, lost track of my CDs & just located my Rothko Chapel & Coptic Light recordings. Playing them at 9:50 tonight. Morty lives…

      Other trivia: I first met him at Scirri’s, my Kenmore NY pizza shop right after premiere of 2nd string quartet. (He liked their dandelion pasta)

      • craig bove says:

        Al, good to hear again from you. What brought you to Maine…?

        I remember Scirri’s…one of the many distinctions of being a part of the last Feldman generation…


      • Al Kryszak says:

        Cool, Craig. I forgot you got up to Kenmore a lot. You had that nice place on Richmond Ave.

        I took a position as University of Maine IT Operations Manager, & still write exactly what no one wants to hear. Mitty quote of the day: “NY composers are trapped like a RRATT! What are you gonna do, be an uptown composer? Or are you gonna go Downtown and be Phillip Plexiglass!?”

      • craigbove says:

        “Steve Glass and Phil Reich…they’re interchangeable…” Morty…later that same year…

        BTW…I’d like to hear what you’re writing…

      • Al Kryszak says:

        Hey Craig. My stuff is up at iTunes under “Al Kryszak” &

        Can I catch up on recent scores of yours?
        I see you have a performance on the 1st?


      • craigbove says:

        I’ll check it out…yes, performance tomorrow at Winthrop U. There’sa scores page at

        Thanks Alan,


        On Sat, Jan 31, 2015 at 4:22 PM, Craig Bove wrote:


    • craig bove says:

      Mark, good to hear from you…hope you’re well. Morty’s presence still resonates powerfully with me, Al and anyone who came within earshot of him…although there were days (as evidenced in our remarks) where he would drop us like a bag of dirt…


      • craigbove says:

        Ha…dead on…

        Ya can’t go high tech…ya can’t go low tech…and crazy Karlheinz is chasing after you…how do you get outta the building? So being a composer is like being James Bond…

  3. craigbove says:

    …and btw…congrats on the new gig…

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