Elliott Carter

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Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. (December 11, 1908 – November 5, 2012) was an American composer who was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, then returned to the United States. After an early neoclassical phase, his style shifted to an emphasis on atonality and rhythmic complexity. His compositions are known and performed throughout the world; they include orchestral, chamber music, solo instrumental, and vocal works.

He was extremely productive in his later years, publishing more than 40 works between the ages of 90 and 100,[1] and over 20 more after he turned 100 in 2008.[2] His last work, Epigrams for piano trio, was completed on August 13, 2012.[3]

Biography[edit]

Elliott Cook Carter Jr. was born in Manhattan on December 11, 1908, the son of a wealthy lace importer. Carter's father was Elliott Carter Sr. and his mother was the former Florence Chambers. As a teenager, he developed an interest in music and was encouraged in this regard by the composer Charles Ives (who sold insurance to Carter's family). While he was a student at the Horace Mann School, he wrote an admiring letter to Ives, a New Englander with a crusty manner who nevertheless responded and urged him to pursue his interest in music. In 1924, a galvanized 15-year-old Carter was in the audience when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the New York première of The Rite of Spring, according to a 2008 report. Carter was again in attendance (see below) in Carnegie Hall, on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2008, when the orchestra, now under James Levine, again performed the Stravinsky piece as part of its tribute to Carter.[4] Although Carter majored in English at Harvard College, he also studied music there and at the nearby Longy School of Music. His professors at Harvard included Walter Piston and Gustav Holst. He sang with the Harvard Glee Club and did graduate work in music at Harvard, from which he received a master's degree in music in 1932. He then went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger (as did many other American composers) at the École Normale de Musique de Paris. Carter worked with Boulanger from 1932 to 1935, and in that year received a doctorate in music (Mus.D.). Later that same year, he returned to the US and wrote music for the Ballet Caravan.

From 1940 to 1944, he taught in the program, including music, at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. On July 6, 1939, Carter married Helen Frost-Jones. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter. During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information. He later held teaching posts at the Peabody Conservatory (1946–1948), Columbia University, Queens College, New York (1955–56), Yale University (1960–62), Cornell University (from 1967) and the Juilliard School (from 1972). In 1967, he was appointed a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1981, he was awarded the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, in 1985 the National Medal of Arts. He lived with his wife in the same apartment in Greenwich Village from the time they bought it in 1945 to her death in 2003.[1]

On December 11, 2008, Carter celebrated his 100th birthday at Carnegie Hall in New York, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra and pianist Daniel Barenboim played his Interventions for Piano and Orchestra written that year. Between the ages of 90 and 100 he published more than 40 works, and after his 100th birthday he composed at least 20 more.[1]

On February 7, 2009, he was given the Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers) by the Grammy Awards.[5]

He was on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center, where he gave annual composition master classes. In June 2012, the French government named him a Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur.[6]

Carter died of natural causes on November 5, 2012 at his home in New York City, at age 103.[7]

Music[edit]

Carter's earlier works are influenced by Stravinsky, Harris, Copland, and Hindemith, and are mainly neoclassical in aesthetic. He had a strict training in counterpoint, from medieval polyphony to Stravinsky, and this shows in his earliest music, such as the ballet Pocahontas (1938–39). Some of his music during the Second World War is fairly diatonic, and includes a melodic lyricism reminiscent of Samuel Barber.

His music after 1950 is typically atonal and rhythmically complex, indicated by the invention of the term metric modulation to describe the frequent, precise tempo changes found in his work. While Carter's chromaticism and tonal vocabulary parallels serial composers of the period, Carter did not employ serial techniques in his music. Rather he independently developed and cataloged all possible collections of pitches (i.e., all possible three-note chords, five-note chords, etc.). Musical theorists like Allen Forte later systematized these data into musical set theory. A series of works in the 1960s and 1970s generates its tonal material by using all possible chords of a particular number of pitches.

The Piano Concerto (1964–65) uses the collection of three-note chords for its pitch material; the Third String Quartet (1971) uses all four-note chords; the Concerto for Orchestra (1969) all five-note chords; and the Symphony of Three Orchestras uses the collection of six-note chords. Carter also made frequent use of "tonic" 12-note chords. Of particular interest are "all-interval" 12-tone chords where every interval is represented within adjacent notes of the chord. His 1980 solo piano work Night Fantasies uses the entire collection of the 88 symmetrical-inverted all-interval 12 note chords. Typically, the pitch material is segmented between instruments, with a unique set of chords or sets assigned to each instrument or orchestral section. This stratification of material, with individual voices assigned not only their own unique pitch material, but texture and rhythm as well, is a key component of Carter's musical style. Carter's music after Night Fantasies has been termed his late period and his tonal language became less systematized and more intuitive, but retains the basic characteristics of his earlier works.

Carter's use of rhythm can best be understood within the concept of stratification. Each instrumental voice is typically assigned its own set of tempos. A structural polyrhythm, where a very slow polyrhythm is used as a formal device, is present in many of Carter's works. Night Fantasies, for example, uses a 216:175 tempo relation that coincides at only two points in the entire 20+ minute composition. This use of rhythm was part of his goal to expand the notion of counterpoint to encompass simultaneous different characters, even entire movements, rather than just individual lines.

He said that such steady pulses reminded him of soldiers marching or horses trotting, sounds no longer heard in the late 20th century, and he wanted his music to capture the sort of continuous acceleration or deceleration experienced in an automobile or an airplane. While Carter's atonal music shows little trace of American popular music or jazz, his vocal music has demonstrated strong ties to contemporary American poetry. He set to music poems by Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, Robert Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore. Several of his large instrumental works such as the Concerto for Orchestra or A Symphony of Three Orchestras are inspired by twentieth-century poets as well.

Among his better known works are the Variations for Orchestra (1954–5); the Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1959–61); the Piano Concerto (1964–65), written as an 85th birthday present for Igor Stravinsky; the Concerto for Orchestra (1969), loosely based on a poem by Saint-John Perse; and the Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976). He also composed five string quartets,[8] of which the second and third won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1960 and 1973 respectively. Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (1993–1996) is his largest orchestral work, complex in structure and featuring contrasting layers of instrumental textures, from delicate wind solos to crashing brass and percussion outbursts.

Interventions for Piano and Orchestra received its premiere on December 5, 2008, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine featuring pianist Daniel Barenboim at Symphony Hall in Boston. The pianist reprised the work again with the BSO at Carnegie Hall in New York in the presence of the composer on his 100th birthday.[1] Carter was also present at the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival to hear the world premiere of his song-cycle On Conversing with Paradise, based on Ezra Pound's Canto 81 and one of Pound's 'Notes' intended for later Cantos, and usually published at the end of the Cantos.[9] The premiere was given on June 20, 2009 by baritone Leigh Melrose and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Oliver Knussen.[10]

Figment V for marimba with Simon Boyar was premiered in New York on May 2, 2009 and Poems of Louis Zukofsky for soprano and clarinet had its first performance by Lucy Shelton and Thomas Martin at the Tanglewood Festival on August 9, 2009. The US premiere of the Flute Concerto took place on February 4, 2010, with soloist Elizabeth Rowe and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine. The last premiere of his lifetime was Dialogues II, written for Daniel Barenboim's 70th birthday and conducted in Milan in November 2012 by Gustavo Dudamel.[11]

Partial list of works[edit]

Ballet[edit]

Opera[edit]

Choral[edit]

  • Tarantella for men's chorus and two pianos (1937)
  • Let's Be Gay for women's chorus and two pianos (1937)
  • Harvest Home for a cappella choir (1937)
  • To Music for a cappella choir (1937)
  • Heart Not So Heavy for a cappella choir (1939)
  • The Defense of Corinth for speaker, men's chorus and piano four hands (1941)
  • The Harmony of Morning for women's chorus and chamber orchestra (1944)
  • Musicians Wrestle Everywhere for mixed chorus (SSATB) a capella or with strings (1945)
  • Emblems for men's chorus and piano (1947)

Concertante[edit]

  • Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord and 2 chamber orchestras (1959–61)
  • Piano Concerto (1964)
  • Concerto for Orchestra (1969)
  • Oboe Concerto (1986–1987)
  • Violin Concerto (1989)
  • Clarinet Concerto (1996)
  • ASKO Concerto (2000)
  • Cello Concerto (2001)
  • Boston Concerto (2002)
  • Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra (2003)
  • Mosaic for harp and ensemble (2004)
  • Soundings for piano and orchestra (2005)
  • Interventions for piano and orchestra (2007)
  • Horn Concerto (2007)
  • Flute Concerto (2008)
  • Concertino for bass clarinet and chamber orchestra (2009)
  • Two Controversies and a Conversation for piano, percussion, and chamber orchestra (2010–11)
  • Dialogues II for piano and chamber orchestra (2012)

Orchestra[edit]

  • Symphony No. 1 (1942, revised 1954)
  • Holiday Overture (1944, revised 1961)
  • Variations for orchestra (1954–1955)
  • A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976)
  • Three Occasions for orchestra (1986–89)
  1. A Celebration of Some 150x100 Notes
  2. Remembrance
  3. Anniversary
  • Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei (1993–96)
  1. Partita
  2. Adagio Tenebroso
  3. Allegro Scorrevole
  • Three Illusions for orchestra (2002–04)
  1. Micomicón
  2. Fons Juventatis
  3. More's Utopia
  • Sound Fields for string orchestra (2007)
  • Instances for chamber orchestra (2012)

Large ensemble[edit]

  • Penthode for ensemble (1985)
  • ASKO Concerto for sixteen players (2000)
  • Réflexions for ensemble (2004)
  • Wind Rose for wind ensemble (2008)

Chamber[edit]

  • Canonic Suite for four alto saxophones or four clarinets (1939, published in 1945, revised in 1981[13])
  • Elegy for viola and piano, also version for string quartet (1943, revised 1961)
  • Cello Sonata (1948)
  • Woodwind Quintet (1948)
  • Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for wind quartet (1949) [1]
  • String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
  • Sonata for flute, oboe, cello, and harpsichord (1952)
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1959)
  • Canon for 3 (1971)
  • String Quartet No. 3 (1971)
  • Brass Quintet (1974)
  • Duo for violin and piano (1974)
  • Birthday Fanfare for three trumpets, vibraphone, and glockenspiel (1978)
  • Triple Duo (1983)
  • Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet (1984)
  • Canon for 4 (1984)
  • String Quartet No. 4 (1986)
  • Enchanted Prelude for flute and cello (1988)
  • Con leggerezza pensosa for clarinet, violin, and cello (1990)
  • Quintet for piano and winds (1991)
  • Trilogy for oboe and harp (1992)
  1. Bariolage for harp
  2. Inner Song for oboe
  3. Immer Neu for oboe and harp
  • Esprit rude/esprit doux II for flute, clarinet, and marimba (1994)
  • Fragment I for string quartet (1994)
  • String Quartet No.5 (1995)
  • Luimen for ensemble (1997)
  • Quintet for piano and string quartet (1997)
  • Fragment II for string quartet (1999)
  • Oboe Quartet, for oboe, violin, viola, and cello (2001)
  • Hiyoku for two clarinets (2001)
  • Au Quai for bassoon and viola (2002)
  • Call for two trumpets and horn (2003)
  • Clarinet Quintet (2007)
  • Tintinnabulation for percussion sextet (2008)
  • Tre Duetti for violin and cello (2008, 2009)
  1. Duettone
  2. Adagio
  3. Duettino
  • Nine by Five for wind quintet (2009)
  • Trije glasbeniki for flute, bass clarinet, and harp (2011)
  • String Trio (2011)
  • Double Trio for trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano, violin and cello (2011)
  • Rigmarole for cello and bass clarinet (2011)
  • Epigrams for violin, cello, and piano (2012)

Voice[edit]

  • My Love Is in a Light Attire for voice and piano (1928)
  • Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred for voice and guitar (1938)
  • A Mirror on Which to Dwell for soprano and ensemble (1975)
  • Syringa for mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, guitar, and ensemble (1978)
  • Three Poems of Robert Frost for baritone and ensemble (1942, orchestrated 1980)
  • In Sleep, in Thunder for tenor and ensemble (1981)
  • Of Challenge and of Love for soprano and piano (1994)
  • Tempo e Tempi for soprano, oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello (1998–99)
  • Of Rewaking for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (2002)
  • In the Distances of Sleep for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra (2006)
  • Mad Regales for six solo voices (2007)
  • La Musique for solo voice (2007)
  • Poems of Louis Zukofsky (2008) for mezzo-soprano and clarinet
  • On Conversing with Paradise (2008) for baritone and chamber orchestra
  • What Are Years (2009) for soprano and chamber orchestra
  • A Sunbeam's Architecture (2010) for tenor and chamber orchestra
  • Three Explorations (2011) for bass-baritone, winds, and brass

Piano[edit]

  • Piano Sonata (1945–46)
  • Night Fantasies (1980)
  • 90+ (1994)
  • Two Diversions (1999)
  • Retrouvailles (2000)
  • Two Thoughts about the Piano (2005–06)
  1. Intermittences
  2. Caténaires
  • Tri-Tribute (2007–08)
  1. Sistribute
  2. Fratribute
  3. Matribute

Solo instrumental[edit]

  • Eight Pieces for Four Timpani (1949/66)
  • Changes for guitar (1983)
  • Scrivo in Vento for flute (1991)
  • Gra for clarinet, also version for trombone (1994)
  • Figment for cello (1994)
  • A 6-letter Letter for English horn (1996)
  • Shard for guitar (1997)
  • Four Lauds for solo violin (1999, 1984, 2000, 1999)
  1. I. Statement – Remembering Aaron
  2. II. Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi
  3. III. Rhapsodic Musings
  4. IV. Fantasy – Remembering Roger
  • Figment II for cello (2001)
  • Steep Steps for bass clarinet (2001)
  • Retracing for bassoon (2002)
  • HBHH for oboe (2007)
  • Figment III for contrabass (2007)
  • Figment IV for viola (2007)
  • Figment V for marimba (2009)
  • Retracing II for horn (2009)
  • Retracing III for trumpet (2009)
  • Retracing IV for tuba (2011)
  • Retracing V for trombone (2011)
  • Mnemosyné for violin (2011)

Partial discography[edit]

Notable students[edit]

For a listing of Carter's notable students, see List of music students by teacher#Elliott Carter.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Daniel J. Watkin (2008-12-11). "Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall, With New Notes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  2. ^ "Boosey & Hawkes works catalog". Boosey & Hawkes. 
  3. ^ "Elliott Carter, Composer Who Decisively Snapped Tradition, Dies at 103", The New York Times 11-05-2012
  4. ^ When Mr. Carter attended Harvard, starting in 1927, Ives took him under his wing and made sure he went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, who programmed contemporary works frequently. "Celebrating a Birthday as Well as a Score" by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times 2008-12-13
  5. ^ "Recording Industry Salutes Musical Alums." The Horace Mann Report. Vol 106: Issue 9. January 23, 2009. (Retrieved February 9, 2009)
  6. ^ "Elliott Carter". The Daily Telegraph (London). November 6, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Composer Elliott Carter dies at 103". Boston.com. 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2012-11-06. [dead link]
  8. ^ 'Minimalism is death'. Telegraph, 26 July 2003.
  9. ^ Classical Music :: The Classical Source :: Elliott Carter speaks at the Aldeburgh Festival 2009 :: Classical Music
  10. ^ On Conversing with Paradise | Aldeburgh Music
  11. ^ http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2012/11/video-of-elliott-carters-final-premiere-conducted-by-a-man-72-years-younger.html
  12. ^ Doering, William, "Elliot Carter Jr. (1908— )", in Sitsky, Larry (ed.), Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (ABC-CLIO, 2002), p. 105.
  13. ^ Sax, Mule, Jean-Pierre Thiollet, H & D, 2004, p.109
  • Capuzzo, Guy. Elliott Carter's 'What Next?': Communication, Cooperation, Separation. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-58046-419-2.
  • Doering, William T. Elliott Carter: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-bibliographies in music, no. 51. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. ISBN 0-313-26864-9.

Interviews[edit]

Listening[edit]

External links[edit]