You can view a video of this entire conversation, or listen to a podcast of it by clicking here.
At some point in my recent conversation with musicologist Austin Clarkson he used the phrase “leapfrogging series of interactions” to describe the relationships among four composers, Anton Webern, Stefan Wolpe, Morton Feldman and John Cage.
“Stefan meets Anton and Morty meets John” is the title of an October 6 concert and accompanying seminar, both curated by Clarkson, to launch the 43rd season of New Music Concerts with whom Clarkson has had a relationship spanning more than two and a half decades. While the four composers in question never all met, the intersections of their lives and work make for an interesting daisy chain of musical thought and circumstance.
Clarkson explains: “Cage had met Morton Feldman at a concert in Carnegie Hall conducted by Dmitri Mitropoulos with the New York Philharmonic playing the Webern Symphony Op.21. They both left the concert at the same time and Morty went up to John and said, ‘Wasn’t that beautiful.’ Because he [Feldman] had already seen John Cage at a meeting at one of the musicales at the Wolpe apartment uptown, and had not spoken to him. But this time he spoke to him.”
The date of this concert was January 26, 1950, and it was, by several accounts, a memorable occasion. Music writer Alex Ross, for one, in his book The Rest Is Noise asserts that the two left the concert early, equally disgusted at the reaction of the New York Phil audience to the Webern piece.
“Sounds as if it was in that mandatory ‘before the intermission’ slot for new music” I posit to Clarkson, and he briefly nods assent to the notion before carrying on with his story: