Elliott Carter went his own way writing music that was often difficult to play and, for many audiences, difficult to hear. Eventually, he captured listeners and became one of the most honored American composers. Carter died yesterday in New York at 103 in the Greenwich Village apartment where he had lived since the 1940s. In an interview a few years ago, he said:
As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public. I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself. Since then, people have gotten interested.
They became so interested that he won two Pulitzer Prizes and, virtually until the end, was in demand by orchestras who commissioned his compositions. Although he did not compose for jazz musicians, Carter was an influence on many, particularly those who also tended toward Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartok and other iconoclastic 20th Century composers. For a comprehensive Carter obituary, go here.
Let’s listen in its entirety to Carter’s String Quartet No. 2, which in 1960 brought him his first Pulitzer Prize.
This recording by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic has superb performances of Carter’s Concerto For Orchestra and three pieces by Carter’s mentor, Charles Ives.
To see and hear Carter discuss his early years in music, click here for an interview he gave when he turned 100 and here for his recent encounter with Alisa Weilertstein when she consulted with him as she prepared to record his Cello Concerto.
When we were quite young, my wife and I attended a New York Philharmonic concert of the Concerto For Orchestra. At its conclusion, Bernstein brought Carter onstage for a bow and a standing ovation. How splendid he looked, we said, for a man his age. He was 66. What a break for listeners that he had 37 more productive years.