Composers Datebook®

Morton Feldman salutes his piano teacher


Today a tip of the hat to a much-beleaguered and frequently unacknowledged species: the piano teacher. All the great pianists had one—as did the not so great... Do you, for example, remember the name of YOUR first piano teacher?

In the case of Duke Ellington, it was not a name one could easily forget. She was a certain Mrs. Clinkscales, and Ellington always gave her credit for her persistence.

"Because of my enthusiasm for playing ball and running and racing through the street, I missed more lessons than I took," wrote Ellington. "When she had her piano recital with all her pupils, I was the only one who could not play his part. So Mrs. Clinkscales had to play the treble, and I just played the umpy-dump bottom! The umpy-dump bottom, was, of course, the foundation and understanding of that part of piano-playing I later learned to like."

The avant-garde American composer Morton Feldman immortalized the name of HIS piano teacher in an elegiac chamber piece titled "Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety."

This music was premiered in France on today's date in 1970. Steeped in the great Russian tradition, Madame Maurina Press said she had taught the children of the Czar and knew the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. She started teaching Morton Feldman when he was twelve, and his tribute to her is scored for 12 instruments—with the piano conspicuous by its absence!

Music Played in Today's Program

Morton Feldman (1926 - 1987) Madame Press died last week at 90 Orchestra of St. Luke's; John Adams, cond. Nonesuch 79249

On This Day


  • 1872 - French composer Déodat de Severac, in Saint-Félix-de-Caraman, Lauraguais

  • 1908 - Swedish composer Gunnar de Frumerie, in Nacka (near Stockholm


  • 1752 - German-born English composer and conductor John Christopher (Johann Christoph) Pepusch, age 85, in London; In 1710 was one of the founding members of the "Academy of Ancient Music," which revived 16th century vocal music; He orchestrated some of the numbers in John Gay's famous "The Beggar's Opera" in 1728


  • 1920 - Stravinsky: "Grande Suite" from the staged work "The Soldier's Tale," in London at Wigmore Hall, with Ernest Ansermet conducting

  • 1924 - Schoenberg: "Serenade" for chamber ensemble, in Donaueschingen, Germany

  • 1942 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 23, in Moscow

  • 1958 - Xenakis: "Achorripsis" for 21 instruments, in Brussels

  • 1970 - Morton Feldman: "Mme. Press Died Last Week at Ninety," an orchestral work commemorating his Russian piano teacher, in St. Paul de Venice, France

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®