Elliott Carter, classical music composer

Elliott Carter

Biography

Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. (born December 11, 1908) is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer born and living in New York City. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1930s, and then returned to the United States. After a neoclassical phase, he went on to write atonal, rhythmically complex music. His compositions, which have been performed all over the world, include orchestral and chamber music as well as solo instrumental and vocal works.

He has been extremely productive in his latter years, publishing more than 40 works between the ages of 90 and 100, and three more since he turned 100.

Carter's father, Elliott Carter, Sr. was a businessman and his mother was the former Florence Chambers. The family was well-to-do. As a teenager he developed an interest in music and was encouraged in this regard by the composer Charles Ives (who sold insurance to his family). In 1924 a "galvanized" 15-year-old Carter was in the audience when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the New York première of The Rite of Spring, according to a 2008 report. Carter was again in attendance (see below) at Carnegie Hall, on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2008, when the orchestra, now under the baton of James Levine, again performed the Stravinsky piece as part of its tribute to Carter.[2] Although Carter majored in English at Harvard College, he also studied music there and at the nearby Longy School of Music. His professors included Walter Piston and Gustav Holst. He sang with the Harvard Glee Club. He 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). Carter worked with Mlle Boulanger from 1932–35 and in 1935 he received a doctorate in music (D Mus) from the Ecole Normale in Paris. Later in 1935 he returned to the US where he wrote music for the Ballet Caravan.

From 1940 to 1944 Elliott Carter taught in the program, including music, at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. On July 6, 1939, Carter married Helen Frost-Jones. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter. During World War II, Carter 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. Carter has lived in Greenwich Village since 1945.

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 from 2008. Between the ages of 90 and 100, Carter published more than 40 works, and after his 100th birthday he has composed three more.

On February 7, 2009, Carter was given the Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers) by the Grammy Awards.[3]

Carter is on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center where he gives annual composition master classes.

Carter's earlier works are influenced by Stravinsky, Harris, Copland, and Hindemith, and are mainly neoclassical in aesthetic. He had a strict and thorough training in counterpoint, from medieval polyphony through 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 frankly diatonic, and includes a melodic lyricism reminiscent of Samuel Barber. Interestingly, Carter abandoned neoclassicism around the same time Stravinsky did, saying that he felt he had been evading vital areas of feeling.

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 does not employ serial techniques in his music. Rather he independently developed and cataloged all possible collections of pitches (i.e., all possible 3 note chords, 5 note chords etc.). Musical theorists like Allen Forte later systematized this 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.

Composer Title Date Action
Elliott Carter Caténaires (Two Thoughts About the Piano) 02/07/2009 Play Add to playlist
Elliott Carter Pastoral for Clarinet and Piano 02/13/2009 Play Add to playlist
Elliott Carter Caténaires 10/01/2011 Play Add to playlist
Elliott Carter Caténaires 07/11/2013 Play Add to playlist