Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Elliott Carter / Philip George

Elliott Cook Carter, Jr.'s (December 11, 1908 – November 5, 2012) father 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 Carter's family). In 1924, the 15-year-old Carter was in the audience when Pierre Monteux conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the New York première of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.  "I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever heard, and I wanted to do like that, too," he recalled.  "Of course, half the audience walked out, which was even more pleasant to me.  It seemed much more exciting than Beethoven and Brahms and the rest of them."

Although Carter majored in English at Harvard College, he also studied music there and at the nearby Longy School.  His professors  included Walter Piston and Gustav Holst.  He sang with the Glee Club and 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 from 1932 to 1935, and in that year received the Mus.D. from the Ecole Normale.  Soon after, he returned to the US and wrote music for the Ballet Caravan.

Carter's earlier works were 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 (1939). 

On July 6 of that year, Carter married Helen Frost-Jones. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter.

From 1940 to 1944, he at taught St. John's College, Annapolis, mD.  

Some of his music during the Second World War is frankly diatonic, and includes a melodic lyricism reminiscent of Samuel Barber.

Following the war, he held a teaching post at the Peabody Conservatory (1946–1948),

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 three-note chords, five-note chords, etc.). Musical theorists like Allen Forte later systematized these data into musical set theory. 

Some of these developments occurred while teaching at Columbia University and Queens College (1955–1956), including the composition of Variations for Orchestra (1955).

While teaching at Yale University (1960-1962), he received the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his String Quartet No. 2 (1960), finished the Double Concerto for Harpsichord, Piano, and Two Chamber Orchestras (1961) and began a series of works, which continued through the 70's, that generate their tonal material by using all possible chords of a particular number of pitches.

Such is the case with Piano Concerto (1965,  written as an 85th birthday present for Igor Stravinsky), utilizing the collection of three-note chords for its pitch material, and -- during a stint at Cornell University (from 1967) -- Concerto for Orchestra (1969,  loosely based on a poem by Saint-John Perse) and String Quartet No. 3 (1971), actualizing respectively all five- and four-note chords.  At the Juilliard School (from 1972), he wrote A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1975), based on poems by Elizabeth Bishop, with almost every pitch derived from the content of a single sonority.  He extended his interests to six note collections in Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976), a work which again also reflects literary concerns.

Indeed, througout his career, his vocal music has demonstrated strong ties to contemporary American poetry, setting texts of Robert Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore. 

Carter won a second Pulitzer Prize for String Quartet No. 3 in 1973. 

Of particular interest are "all-interval" 12-tone chords where every interval is represented within adjacent notes of the chord.  His 1980 solo piano Night Fantasies uses the entire collection of the 88 symmetrical-inverted all-interval 12 note chords. Typically, the pitch material is segmented between instruments, with a unique set of chords or sets assigned to each instrument or orchestral section. This stratification of material, with individual voices assigned not only their own unique pitch material, but texture and rhythm as well, is a key component of Carter's musical style.

Carter's use of rhythm can best be understood within the concept of stratification. Each instrumental voice is typically assigned its own set of tempi. A structural polyrhythm, where a very slow polyrhythm is used as a formal device, is present in many of Carter's works.  Night Fantasies uses a 216:175 tempo relation that coincides at only two points in the entire c. 20-minute composition. This use of rhythm is part of his goal to expand the notion of counterpoint to encompass simultaneous different characters, even entire movements, rather than just individual lines.

His use of rhythm allows his music a structured fluidity and sense of time perhaps unique in classical music. The music also is overtly expressive and dramatic.  He has said that "I regard my scores as scenarios, auditory scenarios, for performers to act out with their instruments, dramatizing the players as individuals and participants in the ensemble."

Carter has also talked about his desire to portray a "different form of motion," in which players are not locked in step with the downbeat of every measure.

He said that such steady pulses reminded him of soldiers marching or horses trotting, sounds no longer heard in the late 20th Century, and he wanted his music to capture the sort of continuous acceleration or deceleration experienced in an automobile or an airplane. 

Carter's music from 1981 has been published by Boosey and Hawkes, and characterized as his late period, with a tonal language less systematized and more intuitive. 

The last of his string quartets, No. 5 (1995), dates from this period.

Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (1996) is his largest orchestral work, complex in structure and featuring contrasting layers of instrumental textures, from delicate wind solos to crashing brass and percussion outbursts.

Interventions for Piano and Orchestra received its premiere on December 5, 2008, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Levine, featuring pianist Daniel Barenboim

On December 11, 2008, Carter celebrated his 100th birthday at Carnegie Hall, with Boston Symphony Orchestra and Barenboim reprising Interventions.

Carter was also present at the 2009 Aldeburgh Festival to hear the world premiere of his song-cycle On Conversing with Paradise, based on an Ezra Pound text.  The premiere was given on June 20, 2009 by baritone Leigh Melrose and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, conducted by Oliver Knussen.

That same year, Figment V for Marimba, with Simon Boyar, was premiered on May in New York, and Poems of Louis Zukofsky for soprano and clarinet had its first performance by Lucy Shelton and Stanley Drucker on August 9 at the Tanglewood Festival.

The U.S. premiere of Flute Concerto took place with soloist Elizabeth Rowe and the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine, on February 4, 2010,

The last premiere of his lifetime was Dialogues II, written for Daniel Barenboim's 70th birthday and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel in November 2012, Milan

Between the ages of 90 and 100 he published more than 40 works,  and after his 100th birthday he composed at least 14 more.

Carter died of natural causes on November 5, 2012 at his home in New York City, at age 103.

Selected Works List

My Love Is in a Light Attire for voice and piano (1928)
Harvest Home for a cappella choir (1937)
Let's Be Gay for women's chorus and two pianos (1937)
Tarantella for men's chorus and two pianos (1937)
To Music for a cappella choir (1937)
Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred for voice and guitar (1938) 
Canonic Suite for four alto saxophones or four clarinets (1939)
Pocahontas (1939)
Heart Not So Heavy for a cappella choir (1939)
The Defense of Corinth for speaker, men's chorus and piano four hands (1941)

Symphony No. 1 (1942)
Three Poems of Robert Frost for baritone and ensemble (1942)
Elegy for viola and piano, also version for string quartet (1943)
The Harmony of Morning for women's chorus and chamber orchestra (1944)
Musicians Wrestle Everywhere for a cappella choir (1945)
Piano Sonata (1946)
Emblems for men's chorus and piano (1947)
The Minotaur (1947)
Cello Sonata (1948)
Woodwind Quintet (1948)
Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for wind quartet (1949)
Eight Pieces for Four Timpani (1949)
String Quartet No. 1 (1951)
Sonata for flute, oboe, cello, and harpsichord (1952)
Variations for orchestra (1955)
String Quartet No. 2 (1959)
Double Concerto for piano, harpsichord and 2 chamber orchestras (1961)
Piano Concerto (1964)
Concerto for Orchestra (1969)
Canon for 3 (1971)
String Quartet No. 3 (1971)
Brass Quintet (1974)
Duo for violin and piano (1974)
A Mirror on Which to Dwell for soprano and ensemble (1975)

A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976)
Birthday Fanfare for three trumpets, vibraphone, and glockenspiel (1978)
Syringa for mezzo-soprano, bass-baritone, guitar, and ensemble (1978)
Night Fantasies (1980)
In Sleep, in Thunder for tenor and ensemble (1981)
Changes for guitar (1983)
Triple Duo (1983)
Esprit rude/esprit doux for flute and clarinet (1984)
Canon for 4 (1984)
Penthode for ensemble (1985)
String Quartet No. 4 (1986)

Oboe Concerto (1987)
Enchanted Prelude for flute and cello (1988) 
Three Occasions for orchestra (1989)
Violin Concerto (1989)
Con leggerezza pensosa for clarinet, violin, and cello (1990)
Quintet for piano and winds (1991)
Scrivo in Vento for flute (1991)
Trilogy for oboe and harp (1992)

Esprit rude/esprit doux II for flute, clarinet, and marimba (1994)
Figment for cello (1994)
Fragment I for string quartet (1994)
90+ (1994) 
Of Challenge and of Love for soprano and piano (1994)

Gra for clarinet, also version for trombone (1994)
String Quartet No.5 (1995)
Clarinet Concerto (1996)
A 6-Letter Letter for English horn (1996)
Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei (1996)
Luimen for ensemble (1997)
Quintet for piano and string quartet (1997)
Shard for guitar (1997)
What Next? (1997)
Fragment II for string quartet (1999)

Tempo e Tempi for soprano, oboe, clarinet, violin, and cello (1999)
Two Diversions (1999)
ASKO Concerto for sixteen players (2000)
Four Lauds for solo violin (2000)
Retrouvailles (2000)
Cello Concerto (2001)
Figment II for cello (2001)
Hiyoku for two clarinets (2001)
Oboe Quartet, for oboe, violin, viola, and cello (2001)
Steep Steps for bass clarinet (2001) 
Au Quai for bassoon and viola (2002)
Boston Concerto (2002)
Of Rewaking for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (2002)
Retracing for bassoon (2002)
Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra (2003)
Call for two trumpets and horn (2003)
Mosaic for harp and ensemble (2004)
Réflexions for ensemble (2004)
Three Illusions for orchestra (2004)
Soundings for piano and orchestra (2005)
In the Distances of Sleep for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra (2006)
Two Thoughts about the Piano (2006)
Clarinet Quintet (2007)
Figment III for contrabass (2007)
Figment IV for viola (2007)
HBHH for oboe (2007)
Horn Concerto (2007)
Interventions for piano and orchestra (2007)
La Musique for solo voice (2007)
Mad Regales for six solo voices (2007)
Sound Fields for string orchestra (2007)
Flute Concerto (2008)
On Conversing with Paradise (2008) for baritone and chamber orchestra 
Poems of Louis Zukofsky (2008) for mezzo-soprano and clarinet
Tintinnabulation for percussion sextet (2008)
Tri-Tribute (2008)

Wind Rose for wind ensemble (2008)
Concertino for bass clarinet and chamber orchestra (2009)
Figment V for marimba (2009)
Nine by Five for wind quintet (2009)
Retracing II for horn (2009)
Retracing III for trumpet (2009) 
Tre Duetti for violin and cello (2009)
What Are Years (2009) for soprano and chamber orchestra
A Sunbeam's Architecture (2010) for tenor and chamber orchestra
Double Trio for trumpet, trombone, percussion, piano, violin and cello (2011)
Mnemosyné for violin (2011)
Retracing IV for tuba (2011)
Retracing V for trombone (2011)
Rigmarole for cello and bass clarinet (2011)
String Trio (2011)
Three Explorations (2011) for bass-baritone, winds, and brass
Trije glasbeniki for flute, bass clarinet, and harp (2011)
Two Controversies and a Conversation for piano, percussion, and chamber orchestra (2011)
Dialogues II for piano and chamber orchestra (2012)
Epigrams for violin, cello, and piano (2012)
Instances for chamber orchestra (2012)