Elliott Carter: Celebrating a Long Life of Music

Posted By on December 11, 2012

On November 5th of this year, the classical music world lost one of its giants. Elliott Carter would have celebrated his 104th birthday today, most likely by attending a concert or composing a new piece.

Elliott Carter

Born in New York City on December 11, 1908, Mr. Carter became interested in modern music in his teens. Attending the New York premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1924 was an early inspiration for the aspiring composer.  He found a mentor in Charles Ives who helped him get into Harvard, where he studied with Walter Piston and Gustav Holst.  After completing his master’s degree in music at Harvard, he went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, and received his doctorate in music from Ecole Normale in Paris.

Over his long career, Mr. Carter taught at the Peabody Conservatory, Queens College, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell and the Juilliard School, and was on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center.  He received many awards, among them the National Medal of Arts, The Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers by the Grammy Awards), and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Not slowing down in his later years, Mr. Carter composed over 4o of his 158 works between the ages of 90 and 100, and at least a dozen more after turning 100. His first opera, What Next?, was completed when he was 90 and his last work, 12 Short Epigrams for piano, was completed in August of this year.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2008 at Carnegie Hall at a concert which included his Interventions for piano and orchestra written the previous year.  The concert also included a performance of The Rite of Spring.

Often a polarizing force in contemporary  music, Elliott Carter was at times criticized for being too intellectual and inaccessible, but was also celebrated for his complex and challenging compositions.  His music spanned neoclassicism, populism, atonality, rhythmic complexity, and his own form of serialism, eventually arriving at a more lyrical style late in life.

Join us in remembering a life spent reinventing modern music.  We hope you enjoy this selection of Elliott Carter’s compositions.

About the author

Jen Tolnay has been working for J.W. Pepper since 1991. She has primarily worked in customer service, and is now spending much of her time on Pepper’s social media efforts. Jen has a degree in music theory from Temple University, and spent many years musical directing and accompanying musical theatre productions. She currently accompanies a weekly church service, and also is the accompanist for a local elementary school and middle school. Her favorite musical activity is jamming with her two teenagers.

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