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Elliott Carter

Elliott Carter

James Wierzbicki
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 136
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  • Book Info
    Elliott Carter
    Book Description:

    This compact introduction to the life and works of composer Elliott Carter provides a fresh perspective on one of the most significant American composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A leading voice of the American classical music tradition and a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, Carter was initially encouraged to become a composer by Charles Ives, and he went on to learn from Walter Piston at Harvard University and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Drawing on Carter's voluminous writings and compositions, James Wierzbicki provides a clear discussion of Carter's evolving understanding of musical time and the influence of film on his work. Celebrating his 100th birthday in 2008 by premiering a number of new compositions, Carter has been a powerful presence on the American new music scene, an important connection to American music's foundational figures, and a dynamic force in its continuing evolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09312-8
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    For any musically trained person who has grappled with the intricacies of a Carter score, surely the temptation is great to focus largely on technical matters. After all, Carter’s music demands extraordinary attention and precision of its performers, and for at least six decades it has been replete with “learned devices” (all-interval tetrachords, architectonic polyrhythms, metric modulations, etc.) of the sort that whet the appetites of academically inclined commentators. Whereas music of any sort is fundamentally abstract, Carter’s devices seem appealingly concrete, capable not just of being identified in the “texts” of the scores but also of being rigorously analyzed...

  4. 1 Foundations (1908–45)
    (pp. 5-31)

    An unfortunately enduring myth has it that Elliott Carter was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and that this good fortune somehow related both to Carter’s intellectual grounding and to his work as a composer. Often echoed and paraphrased, the misleading idea likely stems from 1957, when Richard Franko Goldman—in one of the earliest biographical-critical studies of Carter—wrote that “as the son of a well-to-do New York family, [Carter] was not faced with the economic necessity of choosing a career, and was able to pursue an education in the leisurely fashion no longer common.”¹


  5. 2 Three Seminal Works (1945–51)
    (pp. 32-49)

    Recalling from firsthand experience the considerable buzz that surrounded the initial performances (in 1947) and the publication (in 1948) of the Piano Sonata, Rorem was on the mark when he suggested—from the perspective of three decades later—that it had long been “generally agreed” that the Piano Sonata was the first demonstration of the uniquely “Carteresque” style. But others, writing not as actual participants in New York’s fecund postwar contemporary music scene but as chronologically distanced academic observers, have contended that it was not until somewhat later that the Carteresque style first manifested itself.

    In the first edition of...

  6. 3 Maturity (1950–80)
    (pp. 50-74)

    Carter’s string quartet no. 1 was written over a ten-month period in 1950–51 during which the composer was supported by a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. Work on his 1945–46 Piano Sonata had been funded by the same philanthropic organization, and in 1950 Carter benefited not just from the second Guggenheim Fellowship but also from a small grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Along with these awards, Carter at midcentury had several composition prizes to his credit: his 1937 choral piece To Music earned top honors in a competition sponsored by the WPA Federal Music...

  7. 4 New Directions (1980–2010)
    (pp. 75-96)

    Between 1950 and 1980 virtually all of Elliott Carter’s compositions were written for and premiered by American artists. Yet during these decades his music had plenty of performances in Europe, and Carter was of the general opinion that his works were not only better treated in terms of allotted rehearsal time but also better received, not just by the press but by audiences, in Europe than in his native country. It probably came as no great shock, then, that in April 1980 Carter was notified that he was soon to be granted the Ernst von Siemens Prize, a Munich-based award...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 97-100)

    In a review of the 1988 reissue in paperback of David Schiff’s book, H. Wiley Hitchcock remarked, almost casually, that “it is difficult to generalize about Carter’s music and what makes it tick.”¹ Such a statement might apply to any composer, but it seems especially true when applied to a composer who has lived as long and has been as productive as Carter. Still, generalizations about Carter abound.

    Schiff’s most sweeping generalization comes in the 1998 second edition of The Music of Elliott Carter, and with it he stands virtually alone in suggesting that Carter’s music, especially from the twentieth...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 101-116)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 117-122)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 123-127)