Saturday, 11 December 2010

Elliott Carter at 102

Many happy returns to America's greatest composer! Is it already two years since we celebrated his centenary? The Southbank Centre's tribute on the day, from the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Pierre Boulez, still lingers in the mind. Here is a performance from Tanglewood of Carter's Luimen:

Click here for the first and second in a series of filmed interviews with the composer in his Manhattan apartment (the third will follow next year), presented by Boosey and Hawkes and directed by Tommy Pearson.


Anonymous said...

America's greatest composer ?

Carter remains, for me, one of those incredibly OVERHYPED composers whose inspiration comes (if at all) only in the tiniest spurts. There are so many composers out there who are better, and even some of them don't last.

It also seems to me that many people in our cultural climate pretend to an enthusiasm in his music that they don’t actually feel.

Mark Berry said...

I think if it were the 102nd birthday of a composer for whose music I did not care, I should probably remain silent rather than speak so dismissively, but no matter. As for people claiming an enthusiasm they do not feel, I can only really speak for myself when I say that I find a great deal of his music some of the most invigorating ever written. His extraordinary, indeed quite unprecdented, late fecundity certainly suggests that the 'spurts' of inspiration are more than 'tiny'.

Anonymous said...


Verdi said all that's required on this subject. "There are only two types of music, good and bad...Look to the box office; the theater was meant to be full."

In other words, the only critic that (ultimately) counts is the audience. Music requires an audience eager to hear new works and willing to buy tickets.

I have yet to see a single work by Carter that has entered the standard repertoire.

Tommy Pearson said...

At a Barbican Carter weekend a few years back, the place was full. Full of people who love his music, love to be challenged, delighted, infuriated and excited by it. That, for many people, is what art can do best.
As you will hear in the first of my films, Mr/Mrs Anonymous, his early Cello Sonata is played all over the world in many contexts. And many of his chamber works are performed regularly, as the Boosey and AMP newsletters demonstrate. Perhaps you just don't go to those kinds of concerts.

If box office was the only indicator of success in art and music, we'd be much poorer people for it.

You may not like his music, but surely you can appreciate that others might - and allow them to celebrate his extraordinary longevity and success without accusing them of 'pretending to have enthusiasm'.

Anonymous said...


Ok, but did modernist composers really need a completely new language in order to be original? Why so much dissonance and rhythmic complexity?

When Debussy composed 'Pelleas et Melisande' he used a fairly traditional language and created treasures of unsurpassed beauty, while being uncompromisingly original.

Has Carter or any other hardcore modernist written anything that even approaches the immense sophistication, economy and delicate beauties of 'Pelleas et Melisande'?

I don't think so.

Raining Acorns said...

I've been busily reading various birthday posts in honor of Carter and am glad to add yours to the list. I'm struck by the comments--they remind me of a big argument among the composers at Sequenza21 about John Coolidge Adams a while back. I'm a neophyte when it comes to contemporary music, and while I like to see a spirited debate, it seems too bad if the discussion devolves down to either/or. From my limited forays in, I'm thrilled by the cornucopia of good listening I have in store. I too, have hesitations, to be sure, but while I've heard only one program (Aimard: Carter in Context) and found Carter's music to hard to grasp, the posts by you and others spur me to want to listen and learn more.

James Helgeson said...

(1) 'I don't like X's music, so therefore it's bad and anyone who professes to like it is a pretentious git. (2) The best art/music/literature is the kind that sells the most tickets/copies'. The first statement is egregiously narcissistic, the second typical of the kind of market-enchanted populism that infects our political culture today. Both are pernicious.