Morton Feldman was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 12th, 1926.
At the age of twelve, he studied piano with Vera Maurina-Press, who had been a pupil of Busoni, and it was she who helped instill in Feldman a vibrant musicality. At the time, he was composing short, Scriabin-esque pieces, until in 1941 he began to study composition with Wallingford Riegger. Three years later, Stefan Wolpe became his teacher, though they spent much of their time together simply discussing music and art. Then in 1949 the most significant meeting up to that time took place – Feldman met John Cage, commencing an artistic association of crucial importance to music in America in the 1950s. Cage was instrumental in encouraging Feldman to have confidence in his instincts, which resulted in totally intuitive compositions. He never worked with any systems that anyone has been able to identify, working from moment to moment, from one sound to the next.
His music at this time uses graph notation, which allows the players some freedom of choice. Then, finding this unsatisfactory, he returned to precise notation, though in some pieces of the sixties he again allowed the performers some choice. In the seventies, and for the rest of his life, he maintained control over pitch, dynamics, and duration.
In 1973, the University of New York at Buffalo asked Feldman to become the Edgard Varèse Professor, a post he held for the rest of his life. From the late 1970s his compositions expanded in length to such a degree that the Second String Quartet can last for up to five and a half hours. The scale of these works in particular has often been the cause of some controversy surrounding his work.
Feldman died on September 3rd, 1987 at his home in Buffalo, aged 61.