BD: So you’re unaware of all the performances of your music.
EC: Oh, no! I don’t know at all, mainly because in this country we don’t collect performing rights. The law is very poorly done and so I don’t have any idea how often my works are played.
BD: Of the performances you know about, either here live or on tapes that you get, are you pleased, generally, with the performances?
EC: By and large, yes. We have very good musicians in the United States. I think that musicians, on the whole, are excellent, and when the performers are interested in the music and take trouble over it, I’m pleased with it. I’m always a little disturbed by first performances because they are trying their best to play the notes, and in the end the notes are only the beginning of understanding. This is obvious. I mean, I’m only saying something perfectly obvious. In place of mood music, we’ve heard lots of performances, rather perfect performances, of Beethoven symphonies and Chopin and the rest, but that were totally uninteresting. I get lots of that kind of performances. Not lots of them, but I do get it fairly frequently, and so does every other modern composer out there.
BD: Are there performances of your music where the performers have discovered things in your music that even you did not know that were there?
EC: Usually it isn’t quite like that. I hope they will always do that, in a way, because the music is sort of like a play. You expect the performers to find in the music what they have in themselves. The performer brings something else to the performance and what we hope for is that they will find something that is interesting enough to them to make it a lively performance, and play it fairly faithful to the music. They need to be quite faithful to the music, but very imaginatively treated just as we have with other music, with any music.
BD: When your music is being done, is it better to be a concert of all contemporary music or a concert of all Elliott Carter, or would it be best to drop your music into a concert with Beethoven and Haydn and, and the others?
EC: Ha! I like every one of those. [chuckles] I don’t think it makes any difference very much. One of the problems of contemporary music concerts, at least here, is that it tends to draw a very small and specialized public. That’s because, as I see it, these concerts have not been highly enough publicized. When the city of Milan decided to give Musica nel Nostro Tempo, they give it a whole season long with contemporary concerts almost every week. Gradually they've developed a large public for them. These are highly publicized and they play all kinds of things. Even La Scala presented the Stockhausen opera and the radio orchestra plays concerts of modern music, so you gradually develop a public. We’ve never done it, and we’ve never insisted on it. Part of contemporary music is the way it’s been done in Milan or in London, or as Boulez has done in Paris.
BD: So it really must be more of a collective effort, then.
EC: Yeah. We haven’t done that for many reasons. One of them is culture or the basic cultural reason, but mainly it's because it’s a very big country and it’s very hard to assemble the information. After all, England is a small country so the few sources of information are very intense, while in this country everything gets lost. Beside that we have largely commercialized radio of one kind or another that isn’t interested in things that aren’t in some way popular or successful to a large public. Our public is very large and as a result, it tends to overwhelm the smaller public.
BD: Then whom do you write for? When you’re writing a piece of music, for whom do you write it?
EC: Oh, for myself! I don’t feel any obligation to write it for anybody. I write what I think is good but I’m fortunate enough to have had quite a lot of other people who’ve thought so too.
BD: I see, so you’re not conscious of any public at all?
EC: Well I don’t think about that public in that sense, and as the first public is the performer, I’m very conscious of writing something that they will play with interest, I hope. It’s the performers, it seems to me, to be the source of interest. They find what there is in the music and play it and interests the public in it. As far as the public is concerned, I actually tried to write the music that I think is the best music I can. That’s judged by myself, and on the whole what music that wasn’t very much liked or very much understood twenty years ago now is very much played and very much liked. I’ve done it. I feel that my private judgment has been corroborated by the acceptance of my music in many places.
BD: I understand. I’ve asked you whether you’re pleased with performances. Are you pleased with the recordings that have been made of your music?
EC: Yes, largely I am. I’ve had quite a lot. There’s going to be another recording of myNight Fantasy, so there’ll be three different recordings of that. Two now on the market, and they’re both very different. I can honestly say that I think that all three of them will please me a great deal, although they’re all quite different.
BD: None of them have missed the mark completely. They’re all different interpretations, though.
EC: That’s right, just as you have for anything, for any kind of music.
BD: Is there a chance that there would ever be too many versions of any one of your pieces?
EC: Well I don’t know about too many. I can’t answer that. You mean too many in the sense that it’s economically unsound to have too many?
BD: Well, perhaps, too many in the sense that there are perhaps too many Beethoven “Fifths” available on the market today.
EC: Oh well, I can’t imagine that that would happen and I don’t think that’s likely to happen with my music. That’s the kind of thing that onlyScheherazadedeserves - if it’s deserving anything. Maybe justice or just deserts, I don’t know.
BD: Has there been an influence of recordings on the whole business of the electronic dissemination? Does that influence your writing style at all?
EC: One of my thoughts is that the music is sometimes quite hard on the listener if he isn’t paying great attention, and I console myself by believing that if he hears the recording of it a number of times, he’ll gradually come to like the piece and understand it. There are possibilities of repeating performances, but on recordings, I think, are very helpful to listeners. I find that the pieces of mine that have been recorded do educate not only the public, but also the performers who are going to perform it in the future. They know how it should sound, or they know what parts need more attention, or what they would do differently by hearing the recording. The recording business is not something I think a great deal about, although, it’s true that you can do certain things with balancing in recording that are very much more risky in a public concert. But, mostly that’s not true. Mostly, I find it harder to make a good recording than it is to give a good concert performance. It’s very hard to get that sound, which is so fresh in a concert, on a record. But, nowadays more and more they are. My new recording of Night Fantasy is coming out on a compact disc and I expect that it’ll sound very clear and lively.
BD: But does the recording, perhaps, set up an impossible standard for other concert performances?
EC: Well, the recordings do set up a certain standard, certainly. On the other hand they also make errors. Many times performers come around and say, “We play it better now in concert than we did on the record.” Or there will be other performers who will come and say that they play it better than the other performers did who recorded it. So it does set up a kind of norm, or a kind of means of judgment.
* * * * *
BD: I assume that you are in the happy position of having too many commissions awaiting you.
EC: Oh God, yes. Happy, yes, I guess it’s happy. The commissions are, in one sense, a trouble because when you accept them, then you feel obligated to do them. There was a time in my life when I didn’t feel obligated to do anything but what I wanted. Now I have so many I can choose and do the one I like.
BD: Then how do you decide which commissions you will accept and which commissions you will pass by?
EC: I never accept a commission that I don’t want to do, of course. And although there are lots of those, I generally turn down all orchestral commissions.
BD: You turn down all orchestral commissions???
EC: Most of them, yes. I have too many. I have a few as it is, and that’s enough. I think orchestra music is tiresome to write. It’s too much orchestra. It takes too many notes. It’s too large a problem, and then you don’t get good rehearsals. You don’t get enough rehearsals, except occasionally, and you get a public that is not terribly interested in contemporary music.
BD: So you’re much more now into chamber music?
EC: Yes, it’s better. The performers take much more care with it, and the public that comes to that kind of a concert is much more interested. The subscription audience at symphony concerts is not terribly interested in contemporary music, certainly not in this country. I guess it isn’t anywhere. And it’s not much fun to write for those people with their poker faces.
BD: Let me throw you a little bit of a curve, and ask you about a piece called Tom and Lilly.
EC: Oh, that doesn’t occur.
BD: It’s listed in one of the books as being an opera.
EC: Yes, I know it was. It was something I wrote as a student and then destroyed. That particular book, which is Claire Reese’s book on contemporary music, largely lists works. She asked me to write those things out when I was a student, just as I was stopping to be a student, and most of those things I later decided were not working and were not interesting to me, so I destroyed them.
BD: The brand new “Baker” lists it as an opera, and in the “Grove” it’s listed as an oratorio.
EC: You wanted to know what they’re talking about. In David Schiff’s book on my music which just was published in England - there is another case of the English being interested in my music - he totally explains, in one chapter, all about these works that were listed and then deleted.
BD: I see. Would you never write an opera, then?
EC: Oh, I don’t see any reason to write an opera in America.
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