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, and over 20 more after he turned 100 in 2008. He completed his last work, Epigrams for piano trio, on August 13, 2012.
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 received encouragement in this regard from 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, who responded and urged him to pursue his interest in music. In 1924, a 15-year-old Carter was in the audience when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) 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.
When Carter attended Harvard, starting in 1927, Ives took him under his wing and made sure he went to the BSO concerts conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, who programmed contemporary works frequently. 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.
On July 6, 1939, Carter married Helen Frost-Jones. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter. From 1940 to 1944, he taught in the program, including music, at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. 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. In 1983 Carter was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for outstanding contribution to the arts by the MacDowell Colony. 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.
Carter composed his only opera What Next? in 1997-1998 at the behest of conductor Daniel Barenboim for the Berlin State Opera. The work premiered in Berlin in 1999 and had its first staging in the United States at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 2006 under the baton of James Levine. He later considered writing operas on the themes of communal suicide and a story by Henry James, but abandoned both ideas and resolved to write no more operas.
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.
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Carter's earlier works were influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Roy Harris, Aaron Copland, and Paul 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. On this subject, Carter said: 'I certainly have never used a twelve-tone row as the basis of a composition, in the way described in Schoenberg’s Style and Idea, nor are my compositions a constant rotation of various permutations of twelve-tone rows'. Rather he independently developed and catalogued 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 A 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. Twentieth-century poets have also inspired several of his large instrumental works, such as the Concerto for Orchestra or A Symphony of Three Orchestras.
Among his better known works are the Variations for Orchestra (1954–5); the Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano with 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, 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 BSO, conducted by James Levine and featuring the pianist Daniel Barenboim at Symphony Hall, Boston. Barenboim reprised the work again with the BSO at Carnegie Hall in New York in the presence of the composer on his 100th birthday. 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. The premiere was given on June 20, 2009 by the baritone Leigh Melrose and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Oliver Knussen.
Figment V for marimba was premiered in New York on May 2, 2009 by Simon Boyar 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 the flutist 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 October 2012 by Gustavo Dudamel. The last premiere ever, which happened after Carter's death was "The American Sublime", a work for baritone and large ensemble, dedicated to James Levine and conducted by James Levine.
Partial list of works
- Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord; Sonata for Cello and Piano; Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano With Two Chamber Orchestras. Paul Jacobs, hpschd; Joel Krosnick, cello; Gilbert Kalish, piano; The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Arthur Weisberg, cond. Elektra/Nonesuch 9 79183-2.
- String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2. The Composers Quartet. Elektra/Nonesuch 9 71249-2
- Piano Concerto; Variations for Orchestra. Ursula Oppens, piano; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen, cond. New World Records, NW 347–2.
- Triple Duo; Clarinet Concerto; short pieces. Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Lorraine Vaillancourt, cond. ATMA Classique, ACD2 2280.
- Complete Music for Piano. Charles Rosen, Piano. Bridge 9090.
- Vocal Works (1975–81): A Mirror on Which to Dwell; In Sleep, In Thunder; Syringa; Three Poems of Robert Frost. Speculum Musicae with Katherine Ciesinki, mezzo; Jon Garrison, tenor; Jan Opalach, bass; Christine Schadeberg, soprano. Bridge, BCD 9014.
- Dialogues; Boston Concerto; Cello Concerto; ASKO Concerto. Nicolas Hodges, piano; Fred Sherry, cello; London Sinfonietta, BBC Symphony Orchestra, ASKO Ensemble, Oliver Knussen, cond. Bridge 9184.
- Daniel J. Watkin (2008-12-11). "Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall, With New Notes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
- "Boosey & Hawkes works catalog". Boosey & Hawkes.
- "Elliott Carter, Composer Who Decisively Snapped Tradition, Dies at 103", The New York Times 11-05-2012
- "Celebrating a Birthday as Well as a Score" by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times 2008-12-13
- F. Paul Driscoll (February 2013). "Obituary:Centenarian composer Elliott Carter". Opera News. 77 (8).
- "What Next for Elliott Carter?", Limelight, August 2012, p. 28
- "Recording Industry Salutes Musical Alums." The Horace Mann Report. Vol 106: Issue 9. January 23, 2009. (Retrieved February 9, 2009)
- "Elliott Carter". The Daily Telegraph. November 6, 2012.
- Eichler, Jeremy (November 5, 2012). "Composer Elliott Carter dies at 103". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
- Kozinn, Allan (November 5, 2012). "Elliott Carter, Composer Who Decisively Snapped Tradition, Dies at 103". New York Times.
- Elliott Carter to Samuel Randlett, April 11, 1966, Elliott Carter Collection
- 'Minimalism is death'. Telegraph, 26 July 2003.
- Guerrieri, Matthew (December 5, 2008). "The composer in Cambridge: Carter looks back". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- Clements, Andrew (19 June 2009). "Classical preview: On Conversing With Paradise, Snape, nr Aldeburgh". The Guardian. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- Clark, Andrew (June 23, 2009). "On Conversing with Paradise". Financial Times. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- Clements, Andrew (22 June 2009). "Carter/Benjamin premieres". The Guardian. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
- Mark Swed (November 6, 2012). "Elliott Carter dies at 103; inventive American composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
- David Allen (2015). "Review: Elliott Carter Premiere and Levine Withdrawal With Met Chamber Ensemble". The New York Times. p. C3. Retrieved December 16, 2014.
- 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.
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- Elliott Carter interview by Bruce Duffie, June 1986
- American Gothic: An Interview with Elliott Carter, by Andy Carvin, 1992
- A January 1994 interview with Elliott Carter by Phil Lesh
- NewMusicBox: "Elliott Carter: The Career of a Century" (March 1, 2000). Elliott Carter in conversation with Frank J. Oteri on February 4, 2000.
- MusicMavericks.PublicRadio.org: An interview with Elliot Carter by Alan Baker, Minnesota Public Radio, July 2002
- Radical Connections on Counterstream Radio: Elliott Carter and Phil Lesh in Conversation, December 2007]
- Elliott Carter Centenary Podcast, an interview with Frank J. Oteri, November 27, 2007
- TV Interview (with Daniel Barenboim and James Levine) by Charlie Rose, December 10, 2008
- Tarmy, James (2012-06-06). "Elliott Carter, 103, Has World Premiere, Ponders Hitler, Romney". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
- Elliott Carter: A Life In Music, a documentary (1983)
- Art of the States: Elliott Carter four works by the composer
- Elliott Carter interview from American Mavericks site
- Excerpts from sound archives of Carter's works
- Quotations related to Elliott Carter at Wikiquote
- Official website
- Elliott Carter at the Internet Movie Database
- Yale University Library: Research Guide to Elliott Carter's Life and Music
- Elliott Carter by photographer Philippe Gontier
- Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents by Felix Meyer & Anne C. Shreffler published by the Boydell Press in association with the Paul Sacher Foundation.
- Elliott Carter Studies edited by Marguerite Boland & John Link published by Cambridge University Press.
- Elliott Carter's What Next?: Communication, Cooperation, and Separation by Guy Capuzzo published by the University of Rochester Press.
- Elliott Carter at G. Schirmer/AMP
- Elliott Carter at Boosey and Hawkes
- The String Quartets of Elliott Carter Booklet note for recording by the Arditti Quartet of Quartets 1–4 and Elegy (1988 ETCETERA KTC 1065/1066), by David Harvey
- CompositionToday – Elliot Carter article and review of works
- Elliott Carter Centenary 2008 at the Wayback Machine (archived February 1, 2008)
- John Link's Analysis of Night Fantasies
- Joshua B. Mailman's "Imagined Drama of Competitive Opposition in Carter's Scrivo in Vento (with Notes on Narrative, Symmetry, Quantitative Flux and Heraclitus)"
- A biography on IRCAM's website (French)
- Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
- Elliott Carter papers, 1945-1995 Music Division, The New York Public Library.