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Monday, November 5, 2012

Obituary: Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Elliott Carter: 1908-2012.
The American composer was 103. 
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Elliott Carter died peacefully today.

His death comes a little more than a month before his birthday, December 11. A report on NPR.org stated that according to his assistant, the composer died at home, of natural causes.

Mr. Carter was at the cutting edge of composition and new music creation in a career that spanned from the 20th century into the new millenium. An iconoclast even in his later years,, he wa considered the dean of American composers, working out of his W. 12th St. apartment in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

His early exposure to music came when he was 15, at a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring--still a relatively new work. (Pierre Monteux conducted.)


His father took the young Elliott on a whirlwind tour of Europe in 1922, opening his ears to the musical revolutions sweeping that continent in the years before World War II. In the 1930s, he studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.

From there, Mr. Carter emerged as one of the most brilliant and fearless American composers, whose thorny, complex music incorporated percussion and serial ideas to create new worlds of sound that thrilled generations of listeners. He was an educator too, lecturing at the Peabody Institute, MIT, Yale and The Juilliard School.

He wrote symphonies, concertos, huge orchestral works and an opera, What Next? His catalogue includes the Variations for Orchestra, the Double Concerto, the acclaimed Cello concerto and a Piano Concerto created as a birthday present for his hero Igor Stravinsky. He received many commemorations for his compositions, including two Pulitzer Prizes.

He had a preference for smaller forms in his later years, writing five string quartets, a number of song cycles and an oboe work--a Christmas present for his friend Heinz Holliger. On Oct. 25 of this year, the Orchestra of La Scala premiered Dialogues II with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and pianist Daniel Barenboim.

"It involved writing on huge sheets of paper," he told this reporter in an interview for the New York Daily News.  "When you were trying to write the double bass parts, you had to sit down, and I didn't like getting up and sitting down so much. I started writing music that I could sit at a desk and write."

The full interview with Mr. Carter is available on the official website of the New York Daily News.

Mr. Carter composed, published and attended the premieres of his works regularly, including a 92nd St. Y celebration of his 103rd birthday and the New York Philharmonic's new music CONTACT! series.

Further information on funeral and memorial arrangements are not available as of this writing.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.