Tim Johnson has written a captivating appreciation of Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel, part of an ongoing celebration of favorite works of the last forty years. The list is itself a fine example of ecumenical, non-polemical new-music attitude (see the post on style wars below): it enshrines the arch-simplicity of Arvo Pärt alongside the arch-complexity of Brian Ferneyhough. (These terms "simplicity" and "complexity" are used with due irony and circumspection. Just because Pärt fails to fill up the page with lots of notes doesn't mean he's a simple composer.) Rothko Chapel is a pivotal work for me, too; when I first heard it, I was completely shattered by the entrance of the viola at the end, playing that lonely Hebraic melody which Feldman wrote when he was a teenager, In 1972, Heinz-Klaus Metzger obstreperously asked Feldman whether his music constituted a “mourning epilogue to murdered Yiddishkeit in Europe and dying Yiddishkeit in America.” Feldman answered:
It’s not true; but at the same time I think there’s an aspect of my attitude about being a composer that is mourning—say, for example, the death of art. I mean, remember that I'm a New Yorker, and a New Yorker doesn't think about Yiddishkeit. You think about Yiddishkeit if you live with only five thousand other Jews in Frankfurt, so I haven't got that problem, I mean, I don't think of myself as Jewish in New York. But I do in a sense mourn something that has to do with, say, Schubert leaving me. Also, I really don't feel that it's all necessary any more. And so what I tried to bring into my music are just very few essential things that I need. So I at least keep it going for a little while more. I don't this explains anything, does it?
It does help explain Rothko Chapel, written the previous year.