an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Elliott Carter is fun. (Who knew?)

My album of the week on is Volume 9 in the complete Elliott Carter Edition, a title that would normally prompt me to consign the disc to the Oxfam pile and move on to the next. But a chance listen changed my mind. Read how here.

carter cd

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Rebecca says:

    I remember a composition class he gave (rarely, he didn’t teach music) where he voiced an aversion to any type of musical referencing. He faulted Charles Ives for the extreme referencing of church hymns, popular tunes, etc. that Ives used in almost all his compositions. It was as if he thought writing a real tune, something that would be memorable, was a bad thing. And I think this was because he could never write a memorable tune to save his life. Even with all his brilliant intellect, knowledge, and skill, I think he was just a bad composer. His music, except for a few pieces, was boring. He lacked the talent for what great music does, making the listener FEEL something noble, or beautiful, or wonderful. If you like highly intellectual but inconsequential music, then maybe he’s for you. It’s technically astute enough to make one think it should be great, but it doesn’t pay off.

    A nice man, but NOT a great composer.

    • Mathieu says:

      If you think that a composer’s job is to write “tunes” (a fortiori “memorable” tunes), then I guess you will have to dismiss a lot of modern and contemporary composers…

    • Daniel Farber says:

      Beethoven was not all that great at, or interested in, “tunes” qua tunes either. Rebecca would, on those grounds, dismiss a great deal of the 20th century. Don’t get me wrong: I love Bernstein, Rachmaninoff, Mahler, Sibelius, some of Prokofiev (especially his tunes), but there was a great deal more going on, music that at the very least demands our respect and full attention. And to call Carter “a nice man” is (at best) just a little too easy. His dignity, humor, and the intense curiosity that fed his intellect–his entire “habit of being”–go missing or at least unappreciated in that convenient, condescending catch-all, “nice”.

    • Oliver Rivers says:

      “…rarely, he didn’t teach music…”

      Leaving aside the silliness of what you say about Carter’s music, this is simply wrong. Carter taught composition at Juilliard for 18 years:

      • Pfefferkorn says:

        Yes, Oliver, Rebecca doesn’t know what she’s talking about, starting with the comment about Carter’s teaching. That’s the beauty of the internet, anyone can say (almost) anything.

        Elliott Carter was a very inventive, talented composer, and referencing other people’s work is only one way of creating music. Interestingly enough, his layering of sonic lines echoes Ives’s approach, and some of Carter’s music, like the remarkable Double Concerto, and many of the late works, are quite enjoyable.

  2. Mark Stratford says:

    Amazingly this is the 5th commercial recording of the Carter piano concerto !

    There has been Jacob Lateiner with Leinsdorf, two by Ursula Oppens, some guy on Naxos American series and now Rosen.

    Can’t wait to hear it !

  3. DrewLewis says:

    I agree with Rebecca. I threw away my Mogadon as soon as I discovered his Double Concerto (for harpsichord, piano and 2 chamber orchestras), which rapidly became my preferred remedy for insomnia.

    Most of Dutilleux’s later works have the same soporific effect on me. A shame he rejected his early, tuneful and elegant score for the ballet ‘Le Loup’ – of all his compositions, it’s the one I like best.

  4. Mark Stratford says:

    == He lacked the talent for what great music does, making the listener FEEL something
    == noble, or beautiful, or wonderful

    Ouch ! Nobody could deny that Carter’s music is/was a bit hit and miss. But the Symphony of Three Orchestras from late 70s covers ALL the adjectives you state (noble, beautiful + wonderful). It’s a staggering achievement.

    Actually I hope S3O gets re-recorded in this Bridge cycle. There’s only ever been the Boulez / NYPO one from around the time of the premiere.

    • Paul Pellay says:

      Symphony of Three Orchestras is a marvellous piece, isn’t it? Though, if anything, the Variations for Orchestra is finer still – a flat-out, blazing masterpiece if ever there was one!

  5. jim sillan says:

    carter – a vastly over-rated composers

  6. Perhaps you’ve never heard any of his choral music? It’s extremely charming and enjoyable. He wrote several substantial pieces for men’s chorus, a wonderful piece for women’s chorus and orchestra and at least one piece for mixed chorus that gets performed now and then.

    • True, his earlier pieces are cast in a much more approachable idiom eg. Holiday Overture and the Symphony.
      Composed when he was 38 years old, the Piano Sonata possibly marks the peak of this period.

    • Stephen Owades says:

      I sang in a recording of all of Carter’s choral music for Koch International, conducted by John Oliver with the John Oliver Chorale. We first did all the published works, released on a disc with other music. Then, with Mr. Carter’s assistance, we were able to get copies of some early scores from the Paul Sacher archive which holds his papers, and to perform and record these to fill out an entire Carter CD. One of those early pieces, written as incidental music to a play, had been performed once at Sarah Lawrence College in (I believe) the 1930s, but Mr. Carter had never heard it! He came to our concert in Boston on a Saturday evening, and told John Oliver afterward that he wanted to make some edits to that piece—we received a carefully-marked score on Monday in time for the recording sessions!

      His choral music is I deed very different from the spiky complications of his later works, but the same humorous spirit can be heard throughout. I asked Carter a couple of years later why he hasn’t written any choral music since his younger days, and he replied hat he didn’t think his later style of music could be performed by choruses.

      Fr anyone who hasn’t experienced any choral Carter, try the madrigal “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere”; it’s been recorded several times and the music is available. Our CDs (both the early part-Carter and the later complete-Carter) are out of print (along with the rest of Koch’s catalog), but they can be found through Amazon.

      • That must have been a great experience. I have that disc and cherish it. I sang most of his mens choral work in school and just fell in love with it.

  7. Mark Stratford says:

    check out this wonderful film of Knussen doing Concerto for Orch

an ArtsJournal blog