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The doyen of American music has died

Elliott Carter was 103 years old. His death was announced by his publishers, Boosey & Hawkes.

His music was ever civilised, a tad abstruse, dry as an autumn leaf.

I had one extended conversation with him, almost thirty years ago, in Peter Heyworth’s London flat. Young and brash, I asked who he thought he was writing for. ‘Anyone who cares to listen,’ he replied. But will they understand? I persisted.

He reflected on this for a moment. Then, with a withering smile, immaculately courteous, he said something about music always being way ahead of public taste. ‘You know, when I was growing up in Boston,’ he related, ‘ people used to say the Exit signs in Symphony Hall meant “this way in case of Brahms.”‘

May he rest in peace.

Here is an agency file obituary, citing his two Pulitzer prizes. My personal picks are the first string quartet and the double concerto. Here is a video clip of his final premiere, which took place last week.

Just in: his last filmed interview.

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  1. Elliott Carter’s Piano Concerto turned me on to listening to new music when I was a lad of 14 in San Francisco. I loved this music and feared it. I then got to hear my local orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, play Carter’s kaleidoscopic and monumental Symphony for Three Orchestras conducted by Edo de Waart and I was gobsmacked! What invention and what sounds! I was hooked!

    As a Juilliard student in the 1990s I had the opportunity to play his little piano work “90+” in New York a few times and have long regretted not learning more of his music. Being at the New York premieres of works like “Soundings” and “Interventions” and WHAT NEXT? and the’Cello Concerto have been powerful and inspiring musical milestones in my own development. I am grateful to Dr Carter for teaching me just by writing the music he wrote. Thank you, Elliott Carter.

  2. The Double Concerto is an amazing piece, as are so many of Carter’s works.

    I cannot understand why orchestras do not constantly perform the Double Concerto, the Symphony Of Three Orchestras, the Variations For Orchestra (which is totally accessible) and the Concerto For Orchestra, among other works. They should be in the active repertories of all American orchestras.

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