Monday, November 5, 2012

Elliott Carter, RIP

News came today that Elliott Carter, one of the most significant figures in American music for the past sixty years, has died -- one month before what would have been his 104th birthday. His remarkably long life was remarkably full of musical works, having composed somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty pieces in the last fifteen years. This outburst of productivity would be remarkable for anyone, let alone someone of his age, but it also stands in contrast to earlier periods in his career when his output was slow and the work was characterized by sustained periods of extraordinarily dense textures, complex instrumental behaviors, and extensive, audacious formal schemes. In order to accommodate a more fluid compositional output, Carter streamlined these approaches: they still feature strongly in the recent work but they are simplified, to some extent. Whereas works such as the Third String Quartet or the Double Concerto demanded a vast amount of charting and planning, by most accounts his recent works were less intricately structured, albeit highly logical and rigorous. The degree to which the composer internalized the procedures he had developed over a period of decades of work was remarkable, and it led to a fluency which was one of the great achievements of his late career.

This photo was taken in February 2006, in Minnesota. I had met Mr. Carter on two previous occasions, dating back to 1992. His music plays a spectacularly important role in my own work, and it remains a consistent source of inspiration, puzzlement, and beauty.