American composer Elliott Carter was born 100 years ago today in New York City. He’s lived in the same Greenwich Village apartment for six decades. And he’s still composing music — three new works were given world premieres this week. NPR reporter Tom Cole gave him a fine tribute tonight:
“Elliot Carter was at the 1924 New York premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. From that moment, he says, he wanted to be a composer. His parents did not approve — how many times have we heard that? Carter’s father had a business importing lace curtains from Europe and hoped his son would take over the business. His parents were not musical.
“My mother did have one of those player pianos that had a paper roller,” Carter says. “And we did have some Chopin things, and I played them, but I didn’t like them very much. Later, on one of my trips, I bought piano rolls that Stravinsky had made. And also George Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique was on a player piano roll. That drove my parents crazy.”
… Carter returned to the U.S. and began composing what he calls “American music,” inspired by the spirit of the times — and jazz.
“I remember my First Symphony, which is rather conservative and somewhat jazzy, was played down at Cooper Union,” Carter says, “and Duke Ellington was in the audience. And he came back and said, ‘It seems to me, Mr. Carter, you’re interested in jazz.’ ”
And he was. He heard pianist Art Tatum play on 52nd Street and later became a fan of Thelonious Monk. But after the war, his music changed — beginning with his Piano Sonata of 1946. Carter says he wanted to reclaim the modernist sensibility that first inspired him to compose. In 1948, he wrote his Cello Sonata for Bernard Greenhouse, who went on to co-found the Beaux Arts Trio.
“The Cello Sonata was extremely modern at that time,” the composer says. “I could not get it published. And Bernard Greenhouse and his pianist played the first performance at Town Hall, and they were covered with sweat. It was so upsetting and so disturbing — we had hardly anybody in the audience. If they heard what I write now, they would run out of the hall. Listen/read more
Updated 010509; NPR Fresh Air 122208:
American composer Elliott Carter celebrates his 100th birthday this month, and three new CDs have been released in honor of the occasion: Oppens Plays Carter, by pianist Ursula Oppens; Elliott Carter: 100th Anniversary Release (a two-disc set, with a bonus DVD, featuring the pieces Mosaic, Dialogues, Enchanted Preludes, and Scrivo In Vento) from the New Music Concerts Ensemble; and Carter: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 5 from the Pacifica Quartet. Fresh Air‘s classical music critic has a review.