Wilfrid Mellers, a wise, passionate, deeply generous writer on music, has passed away at the age of ninety-four. I treasure his books on Percy Grainger and Poulenc, his twentieth-century survey Caliban Reborn, his not entirely convincing but always captivating studies of Dylan and the Beatles, and, above all, his 1965 work on American classical and jazz composers, Music in a New Found Land. It's a scandal that the last-named has long been out of print. I've quoted before and I'll quote again Mellers's visionary salute to Morton Feldman:
The tones [in Durations 1-5] are always isolated, immensely slow, and delicately soft, and when instruments play together, because the durations overlap, the simultaneous sounds are often unisonal or concordant. An infinitely slow drone on muted tuba, a major third on muted string harmonics, sound as though the players are creating the tones out of the eternal silence, and we are being born afresh in learning to listen to them. Music seems to have vanished almost to the point of extinction; yet the little that is left is, like all of Feldman's work, of exquisite musicality; and it certainly presents the American obsession with emptiness completely absolved from fear. The music's passive, rarefied tenderness seems to have the therapeutic property of making us saner, rather than more mad. Since the question of sanity or madness can hardly be decided, however, without some human criterion as reference, it may be that the cycle of "consciousness" has, willy-nilly, started again.
In Mellers's honor, a bit of Grainger's "Shallow Brown," with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Country Gardiner Orchestra (Philips/ArkivMusic):