The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us now praise American composer Elliott Carter, who has died at 103. Here are obituaries, remembrances and sound samples. | November 10, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

It got largely lost in all the hullabaloo coverage of the Presidential Election, but there was other news that happened this past week.

A major piece of culture news is that the dean on American classical music composers, Elliott Carter, died last Monday at 103. Carter had won two Pulitzer Prizes and a host of other honors and awards.

Carter (below top, in his younger years) was a devout modernist who early on was known for the thorny difficulty and cerebral quality of his music – his string quartets (below bottom is the opening page of the score to String Quartet No. 2) were often said to be the most difficult ones ever written. But he apparently loosened up in his later years.

Makes up you wonder what Bach, Handel, Haydn , Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak, Brahms and many other great composers would have written, had they lived past 100.

To be honest, The Ear was never a big Elliott Carter fan. His music has its moments — some of them in the “Night Fantasies” for solo piano and the Cello Sonata — but is generally too serial and unlyrical for my taste. I’m more of a tunes guy, and for me his music generally lacks my kind of beauty – that moving quality that I look for in all art. Nonetheless, you can hear the masterful craft and original art that went into Carter’s music, whether it speaks deeply to you or not. (Below is Carter in 1989.)

There are some local ties to mention. For one, Sally Chisholm (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) who teaches viola at the University of Wisconsin School of Music and plays with the Pro Arte String Quartet, performed one of this string quartets before Carter to help mark his 100th birthday back in 2008 (below bottom is a New York Times photo with James Levine and Carter at a concert in Carnegie Hall celebrating his centennial.)

Some old media took notice of Carter’s death this past week. But I was particularly pleased to see how the new media, especially blogs and websites, offered information PLUS audio clips of musical performances and interviews given by Carter.

Here are the complete and comprehensive obituaries that ran in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/arts/music/elliott-carter-avant-garde-composer-dies-at-103.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/07/arts/music/elliott-carter-composer-and-master-of-gear-shifting.html?_r=0

Here is a terrific account from NPR’s outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/06/164364953/elliott-carter-giant-of-american-music-dies-at-103

Here is the story from the British Gramophone Magazine, along with the last interview Carter gave, conducted by cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below). Weilerstein, who has played in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, is also a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” who just released her performance, with conductor Daniel Barenboim, of Carter’s Cello Concerto paired with the popular Elgar Cello Concerto, on Decca Records:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-elliott-carter-has-died

Here is the obituary and story of the famed BBC Music Magazine:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/american-composer-elliott-carter-dies-aged-103

And of course there are many more appreciations to be found on Google if you go and simply type in “Elliott Carter.”

While you do, here is some of Elliott Carter’s more popular and accessible music to listen to: the haunting “Symphony for Three Orchestras” from 1976 performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (you can find lots more Carter on YouTube):


3 Comments »

  1. […] Classical music: Let us now praise American composer Elliott Carter, who has died at 103. Here are o… (welltempered.wordpress.com) […]

    Pingback by Elliott Carter: Appreciating an American Classical Music Icon — November 14, 2012 @ 8:00 am

  2. Very nice obit, Mr. Tunes Guy. We may not know for a generation or three whether Elliott Carter will leave a lasting mark, but at least he kept pushing the envelope forward, which is precisely what artists are supposed to do.

    Comment by Michael Muckian — November 10, 2012 @ 12:13 am

    • Your presumption that artists are supposed to push the envelope is of spurious origin. I suppose the whoe idea goes back to the central European revolution of 1848 in which artists of alkl striped supposed that their mission was “to wake the bourgeoisie from it’s slumbers.” Times have changed. It is a peculiarly American obsession with innovation for its own sake that has I believe led to an impasse in the arts. The over valuation of innovators of all stripes will be reevaluated in the future

      Comment by Daniel Tarr — December 23, 2016 @ 9:27 pm


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