Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


But why is it so Long?: Eschatology and Time Perception as an Interpretation of Morton Feldman's 'For Philip Guston'

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Thomas Rosenkranz (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Michael Ellison (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Menard (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Christopher Dietz (Committee Member)


The late compositions (ca. 1980-1987) by Morton Feldman are noted for slow tempos, a quiet dynamic, but most of all, for their length. The String Quartet No. 2 (1983), at approximately six hours, and For Philip Guston (1984), at approximately four hours, are the most extreme examples of his late style. Inevitably, someone listening to these works must come to grips with this duration; traditional modes of listening in terms of form and memory are thwarted. Christian eschatology, the theology of the future, meditates on the differences between human time and the eternal time of God.

Considering Feldman, length, manner of composition, and perception of time can be interpreted as a symbolic representation of an eternal sense of time. I will combine psychological and philosophical approaches towards time to suggest that experiential time is essentially subjective. By using musical analysis, and eschatology, I will apply this way of thinking about time to devise a theory of interpreting the experience of For Philip Guston. It is my conclusion that the piece represents the state of the eschaton—the spiritual place where divine eternity and human temporality meet—by making use of nonlinear music (representing the divine) but featuring a structurally important linear motive (representing the human).