Music Elliott Carter
by
John Link
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0230

Introduction

Elliott Carter (b. 1908–d. 2012) was one of the leading composers in the United States from the mid-20th century until his death at the age of 103. Born in New York City, Carter was mentored as a teenager by Charles Ives, and later attended Harvard University. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris from 1932 to 1935. After his return to the United States, he was a music critic for the magazine Modern Music and music director of Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan. During the Second World War, he briefly worked for the Office of War Information, then held temporary teaching positions at St. John’s College and several other institutions. Carter’s music first achieved widespread international attention after his String Quartet [no. 1] was awarded the Liège Prize in 1953. (Carter later had to renounce the prize because the premiere performance had already taken place.) A performance of the quartet in Rome in 1954, organized by the composer Nicholas Nabokov (cousin of the famous novelist) and attended by William Glock, Luigi Dallapiccola, and others, established Carter’s reputation. Over the years, Carter’s music was widely acclaimed. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice (in 1960 for his String Quartet no. 2, and in 1973 for his String Quartet no. 3), and he was the recipient of Germany’s Ernst von Siemens Music Prize and the Prince Pierre [of Monaco] Foundation Music Award. He was the first composer to receive the US National Medal of Arts, and was named Commander of the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres,” and later Commander of the Legion of Honor, by the government of France. Carter’s music typically involves the continuous development of contrapuntally interacting textural layers, each characterized by its own harmony, rhythmic behavior, and constituent instruments. Carter’s generalization of counterpoint involves treating each layer of the texture, and often each instrument, as an individual “character-continuity”—akin to a character in a play. Beginning in the 1970s, his deep engagement with setting contemporary poetry led him to reimagine the contrapuntal layers of his music as the contending thoughts and feelings of a single lyric point of view. Much of his later music explores the ambiguity of musical portrayals of social interaction and individual consciousness. Carter’s music is fundamentally humanistic—concerned with representing social interaction and human experience as vividly as they are portrayed in novels, poems, plays, film, dance, and the visual arts.

General Overviews

The best general overview of Carter’s music in English remains Schiff 1998 (first edition 1983). Also essential are Noubel 2000, Wierzbicki 2011, the documentary film Scheffer 2004 (cited under Films and Video Recordings), and the materials and commentary collected in Meyer and Shreffler 2008. Restagno 1989 is an Italian translation of the first edition of Schiff’s The Music of Elliott Carter (1983, cited here as Schiff 1998) and several of Carter’s essays.

  • Meyer, Felix, and Anne C. Shreffler. Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2008.

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    A valuable compendium of documentary materials from throughout Carter’s career, together with brief commentaries on each item and abundantly documented context.

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    • Noubel, Max. Elliott Carter ou le temps fertile. Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions Contrechamps, 2000.

      DOI: 10.4000/books.contrechamps.2592Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The best overview of Carter’s life and work in French.

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      • Restagno, Enzo, ed. Carter. Torino, Italy: Edizioni di Torino, 1989.

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        An Italian translation of the first edition of Schiff’s The Music of Elliott Carter (1983, cited here as Schiff 1998), together with Italian translations of some of Carter’s essays.

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        • Schiff, David. The Music of Elliott Carter. Rev. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

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          The best overview of Carter’s life and work in English. This revised and expanded edition is very different in both organization and content from the first edition, published by Eulenberg (London) in 1983. Both editions are worth consulting.

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          • Wierzbicki, James. Elliott Carter. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011.

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            A brief musical biography with a good summary of Carter’s early career.

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            Research Guides

            Two research guides on Carter’s music are available. Doering 1993 is generally superseded by Link 2000, which includes more detailed commentary, although neither volume includes the wealth of resources published after 2000.

            • Doering, William T. Elliott Carter: A Bio-Bibliography. Bio-Bibliographies in Music 51. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

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              The biography included here consists primarily of quotations from various secondary sources. The bibliography is divided into four sections: works and performances, discography, bibliography of material by Carter, and bibliography of material about Carter. The annotations vary greatly in length and quality.

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              • Link, John F. Elliott Carter: A Guide to Research. New York and London: Garland, 2000.

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                This guide includes a brief Carter chronology, a comprehensive list of his compositions (including works presumed lost or destroyed), a discography of commercial recordings, and an annotated bibliography, including sources by Carter, interviews and panel discussions, and sources by other authors.

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                Essay Collections

                Ponthus and Tang 2008, Boland and Link 2012, Noubel 2013, and Calahan and Wilding 2014 are diverse collections of essays on various aspects of Carter’s music. These sources contain some of the most valuable recent scholarship on Carter and his music. Rosen 1984 includes essays, an interview with Carter, and a catalogue of Carter materials at the Library of Congress.

                • Boland, Marguerite, and John Link, eds. Elliott Carter Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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                  A collection of analytical and musicological essays about Carter’s music by Jonathan Bernard, Marguerite Boland, Guy Capuzzo, Annette van Dyck-Hemming, Stephen Heinemann, John Link, Andrew Mead, Felix Meyer, Max Noubel, Brenda Ravenscroft, John Roeder, Dörte Schmidt, Stephen Soderberg, and Arnold Whittall.

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                  • Calahan, Joel, and Chalcey Wilding, eds. Special Issue: Elliott Carter: Settings. Chicago Review 58.3–4 (2014).

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                    This special issue of the literary journal Chicago Review devoted to Carter’s text settings includes essays by Tony Arnold, Joel Calahan, Clark Coolidge, Jeff Dolven, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Lawrence Kramer, John Link, Ray Ragosta, Richard Saez, David Schiff, and Lloyd Schwartz. The issue also includes reprints of program notes and an essay by Carter, a poem by Allen Fisher, and letters between Carter and two poets whose work he set: John Ashbery and John Hollander.

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                    • Noubel, Max, ed. Hommage à Elliott Carter: Actes du Colloque international Des ponts vers l'Amérique II, Paris, IRCAM, 10–11 décembre 2008. Sampzon: Éditions Delatour France, 2013.

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                      A reprint of papers (in French and French translation) by Christian Carey, Dorothea Gail, Gregor Herzfeld, Andrew Mead, François Nicolas, Max Noubel, Ève Poudrier, Raffaele Pozzi, David Schiff, and Denis Vermaelen, delivered at a conference in honor of Carter’s centennial in 2008 at IRCAM in Paris.

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                      • Ponthus, Marc, and Susan Tang, eds. Elliott Carter: A Centennial Celebration. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon, 2008.

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                        A collection of essays and reminiscences by John Ashbery, Pierre Boulez, Alvin Curran, Paul Griffiths, Louis Karchin, Fred Lerdahl, Charles Rosen, Frederic Rzewski, Richard Wilson, and Walter Zimmerman, published in honor of Carter’s 100th birthday in 2008.

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                        • Rosen, Charles. The Musical Languages of Elliott Carter. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1984.

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                          A valuable collection, including a substantial interview and several essays.

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                          Films and Video Recordings

                          This section includes documentaries with commentary, interviews, and other supplementary material; many other video recordings of concert performances of Carter’s music may be found online.

                          • Benson, Alan, dir. Elliott Carter. The South Bank Show, London Weekend Television. Edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg, 1986.

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                            This documentary includes biographical information and performances of excerpts of Carter’s A Symphony of Three Orchestras, Holiday Overture, and Concerto for Orchestra by the London Sinfonietta; String Quartet No. 2 by the Arditti Quartet; and Piano Sonata and Night Fantasies by Charles Rosen (who also comments on Carter’s music). The biographical material draws on lengthy interviews with Carter.

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                            • Hegedus, Chris, and D. A. Pennebaker, dirs. Elliott Carter. Produced by Programs in the Arts of SUNY and Pennebaker Inc. Buffalo: Center of Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo, 1980.

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                              A documentary film of Carter’s visit to the State University of New York at Buffalo in October 1979. It includes a private discussion including Carter and Morton Feldman, a lecture demonstration for a class of students, rehearsals of Carter’s Double Concerto and Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, and a complete performance of the Double Concerto.

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                              • Scheffer, Frank, dir. Time Is Music: Elliott Carter and John Cage. Produced by Henk Pauwels. Sine Film/Video, 1988.

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                                This documentary is equally divided between Carter and Cage (30 min. each). There are interviews with Carter and Pierre Boulez, and a conversation between Carter and Conlon Nancarrow about metric modulation and writing for the player piano. The film also features excerpts of performances of Carter’s first four string quartets, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, A Symphony of Three Orchestras, and Double Concerto.

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                                • Scheffer, Frank, dir. Elliott Carter: A Labyrinth of Time. DVD. Amsterdam: Allegri Film BV, 2004.

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                                  A beautifully photographed and insightful documentary about Carter’s life and music, made with the active participation of the composer.

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                                  Carter’s Music

                                  The sources listed in this section are primarily focused on Carter’s compositions—arranged here by genre—and on his approach to harmony and rhythm.

                                  Opera

                                  Carter’s only opera—the one-act What Next?, with words by Paul Griffiths—has inspired considerable interest. Of particular note is Griffiths 1999—a firsthand account of working with Carter on the opera’s libretto. Capuzzo 2012 is an analytical monograph. Schmidt 1999, Shreffler 2003, Noubel 2007, Whittall 2008, and Link 2016 are shorter essays that use a variety of analytical and historical methodologies.

                                  • Capuzzo, Guy. Elliott Carter’s What Next?: Communication, Cooperation, and Separation. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2012.

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                                    A monograph on the opera by a prominent music theorist. Capuzzo’s focus is on the technical means by which Carter establishes the relationships among the opera’s characters.

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                                    • Griffiths, Paul. “Working with Elliott Carter.” Opera 50.9 (1999): 1014–1023.

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                                      A remarkably candid journal article looking at Griffiths’s collaboration with Carter on the What Next? libretto. Excerpts reprinted as “What Next?—A Journal,” in the liner notes of the CD Elliott Carter: What Next?/Asko Concerto (ECM New Series 1817, 2003), pp. 24–33.

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                                      • Link, John. “Sense and Sensibility: Music on Stage in What Next?” In In Search of the Great American Opera. Edited by Frédéric Döhl and Gregor Herzfeld, 177–198. Münster, Germany: Waxmann, 2016.

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                                        A study of the opera, with an emphasis on the ways it embodies both the philosophical debates about the genre in the 20th century and the aesthetic concerns of Carter’s late music.

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                                        • Noubel, Max. “‘What do I say? How do I say? Who am I to say?’: Quelques considérations sur la dramaturgie musicale dans What Next? d’Elliot Carter.” In La musique et la scène: L’écriture musicale et son expression scénique au XXe siècle: Actes de colloque, Paris, 23 et 24 novembre 2006. Edited by Giordano Ferrari, 69–82. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007.

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                                          Noubel here considers Carter’s and Griffiths’s opera What Next? from several standpoints, including its harmonic and rhythmic organization, its relationship to Carter’s other music, and the psychological development of its characters.

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                                          • Schmidt, Dörte. “What Next? oder: Ein Portrait des Künstlers als grand old man.” In Schönberg: Von heute auf morgen; Carter: What Next? Zwei Einakter. Edited by Staatsoper Unter den Linden, 150–174. Frankfurt: Insel, 1999.

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                                            In this essay, which was printed in the program book for the world premiere of What Next?, Schmidt notes the opera’s philosophical and technical connections with Carter’s earlier music and with various operatic traditions, and discusses the nature of the opera’s archetypal characters and their relationship to the audience.

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                                            • Shreffler, Anne C. “Instrumental Dramaturgy as Humane Comedy: What Next? by Elliott Carter and Paul Griffiths.” In Musiktheater heute. Edited by Hermann Danuser with Matthias Kassel, 147–171. Mainz, Germany: Schott, 2003.

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                                              A thoughtful early essay on the opera. Shreffler discusses the musical and theatrical influences on Griffiths and Carter’s work, including the Theater of the Absurd and 18th-century opera buffa, with an emphasis on the latter as a guiding influence.

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                                              • Whittall, Arnold. “‘A Play of Pure Forces’? Elliott Carter’s Opera in Context.” Musical Times 149 (2008): 3–13.

                                                DOI: 10.2307/25434568Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                In this widely ranging essay, Whittall considers the opera in the context of Carter’s other music, his approach to text-setting, and the music of his predecessors and contemporaries, including Wagner, Stravinsky, and Boulez.

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                                                String Quartets

                                                Encouraged by the composer’s own statements and writings, many authors give special weight to Carter’s five string quartets, which have come to be understood as the pillars of his oeuvre. Bernard 2009 provides an overview of the quartets. Mead 1983–1984, Koivisto 1996, Schmidt 2000, Jenkins 2010, and Rao 2014 are analytical essays, each about a particular quartet.

                                                • Bernard, Jonathan W. “The String Quartets of Elliott Carter.” In Intimate Voices: Aspects of Construction and Character in the Twentieth-Century String Quartet. Vol. 2. Edited by Evan Jones, 238–275. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009.

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                                                  An authoritative analytical overview of Carter’s five string quartets by a leading music theorist with a long-standing and close connection to Carter’s music.

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                                                  • Jenkins, J. Daniel. “After the Harvest: Carter’s Fifth String Quartet and the Late Late Style.” Music Theory Online 16.3 (2010).

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                                                    A detailed analytical study of Carter’s String Quartet no. 5, drawing on the composer’s autograph sketches.

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                                                    • Koivisto, Tiina. “Aspects of Motion in Elliott Carter’s Second String Quartet.” Intégral 10 (1996): 19–52.

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                                                      Koivisto presents a close reading of the harmony in the first part of Carter’s String Quartet no. 2. Her analyses effectively illustrate Carter’s use of pitch and pitch-class collections to create a sense of directed harmonic motion over various time spans.

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                                                      • Mead, Andrew W. “Pitch Structure in Elliott Carter’s String Quartet no. 3.” Perspectives of New Music 22 (1983–1984): 31–60.

                                                        DOI: 10.2307/832934Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        In this thoroughgoing analysis of the pitch structure in Carter’s quartet, Mead explores the harmonic connections within and between the ensemble’s two duos in great detail, using the language of pitch-class set theory to describe the multiple functions of collections of various sizes.

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                                                        • Rao, Nancy Yunhwa. “Allegro scorrevole in Carter’s First String Quartet: Crawford and the Ultramodern Inheritance.” Music Theory Spectrum 36.2 (2014): 181–202.

                                                          DOI: 10.1093/mts/mtu015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Rao traces the influences of the American ultramodern composers on Carter’s quartet in considerable detail, drawing on a thorough study of the composer’s autograph materials for the quartet, now in the Library of Congress.

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                                                          • Schmidt, Dörte. “Formbildende Tendenzen der Musikalischen Zeit: Elliott Carters Konzept der Tempo-Modulation im zweiten Quartett als Folgerung aus dem Denken Schönbergs.” In Jahrbuch des Staatlichen Instituts für Musikforschung Preußischer Kulturbesitz 1999. Edited by Günther Wagner, 118–136. Stuttgart: Verlag J. B. Metzler, 2000.

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                                                            An extensive analysis of the temporal organization of Carter’s String Quartet no. 2 in the context of Carter’s developing philosophical and aesthetic preoccupations, which Schmidt views as branching out from the example of Arnold Schoenberg.

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                                                            Music and Poetry

                                                            Carter wrote a good deal of choral music and some songs early in his career. Then, after a long hiatus, he returned to writing vocal music in the 1970s. By the end of his life, he had composed settings of poetry by a wide range of mostly modernist American poets. Albright 2009 provides a thoughtful overview of Carter’s approach to setting texts. Danuser 1990 connects Carter’s late vocal music with trends in his earlier instrumental compositions. Kramer 1984 and Vermaelen 1999 consider Syringa—Carter’s collaboration with the poet John Ashbery. Weston 1992, Shreffler 1993, and Ravenscroft 2003 cover Carter’s Elizabeth Bishop song cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell. Bernard 2003 considers the influence of poetry on one of Carter’s large-scale orchestral compositions.

                                                            • Albright, Daniel. “Elliott Carter and Poetry: Listening to, Listening Through.” In Music Speaks: On the Language of Opera, Dance, and Song. By Daniel Albright, 105–121. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009.

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                                                              A thoughtful and thought-provoking commentary on Carter’s approach to setting contemporary poetry.

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                                                              • Bernard, Jonathan W. “Poem as Non-verbal Text: Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra and Saint-John Perse’s Winds.” In Analytical Strategies and Musical Interpretation: Essays on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Music. Edited by Craig Ayrey and Mark Everist, 169–206. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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                                                                Carter has long acknowledged Saint-John Perse’s epic poem Vents (Winds) as an important source of inspiration for his Concerto for Orchestra. In this article Bernard explores the nature of that inspiration in great detail, providing a close reading of both the poem and its connections with Carter’s composition. First published in 1996.

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                                                                • Danuser, Hermann. “Spätwerk als Lyrik: Über Elliott Carters Gesänge nach Dichtungen von Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery und Robert Lowell.” In Bericht über das internationale Symposion “Charles Ives un die amerikanische Musiktradition bis zur Gegenwart,” Köln, 1988. Edited by Klaus Wolfgang Niemöller, 195–222. Regensburg, Germany: Gustav Bosse Verlag, 1990.

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                                                                  Danuser argues that the “dramatization of instrumental music” in Carter’s string quartets of the 1950s and the opposition of individual and ensemble in the concertos of the 1960s both lead to the song cycles of the 1970s. The last are discussed primarily in terms of Carter’s compositional methods, as documented in his sketches. Reprinted as “Elliott Carter, Late Work as Lyric Poetry,” translated by Matthias Truniger, in Sonus 19.1 (Fall 1998): 53–66.

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                                                                  • Kramer, Lawrence. “Song as Insight—John Ashbery, Elliott Carter, and Orpheus.” In Music and Poetry: The Nineteenth Century and After. By Lawrence Kramer, 203–221. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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                                                                    This essay is primarily a close reading of Ashbery’s poem “Syringa,” combined with an analysis of the “esthetic of simultaneity” that both the poem and Carter’s setting of it are found to embody.

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                                                                    • Ravenscroft, Brenda. “Setting the Pace: The Role of Speeds in Elliott Carter’s A Mirror on Which to Dwell.” Music Analysis 22 (2003): 253–282.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.0262-5245.2003.00186.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      A study of Carter’s use of regular pulses in his 1975 song cycle, with emphasis on their various connections to Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry.

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                                                                      • Shreffler, Anne C. “‘Give the Music Room’: Elliott Carters ‘View of the Capitol from the Library of Congress’ aus A Mirror on Which to Dwell.” In Quellenstudien II: Zwölf Komponisten des 20. Jahrhunderts. Edited by Felix Meyer, 255–283. Winterthur, Switzerland: Amadeus Verlag, 1993.

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                                                                        A detailed analysis of the fifth song from Carter’s song cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell and its autograph sources, including a catalogue of sketches and several photographic reproductions of materials in Carter’s hand. Shreffler provides an exceptionally clear and insightful reading of the ways in which Carter’s music responds to and interprets Bishop’s poem. In German.

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                                                                        • Vermaelen, Denis. “Aspects de la pensée musicale d’Elliott Carter dans Syringa: Invention formelle et réflexion sur le temps.” Revue de musicologie 85.1 (1999): 97–118.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/947008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          A philosophical essay on Carter’s Syringa—his composition for mezzo-soprano, bass, and ensemble, which combines a setting of John Ashbery’s poem “Syringa” (for mezzo-soprano) with ancient Greek fragments chosen by Carter (sung by the bass). Vermaelen focuses on the form of the composition, both small- and large-scale, and on its aesthetic connections to various literary modernists, especially Proust.

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                                                                          • Weston, Craig A. “Inversion, Subversion, and Metaphor: Music and Text in Elliott Carter’s A Mirror on Which to Dwell.” DMA diss., University of Washington, 1992.

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                                                                            A valuable study of Carter’s song cycle, with significant implications for the music Carter composed in the 1980s and early 1990s based on structural polyrhythms.

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                                                                            Other Genres

                                                                            Analytical articles on Carter’s compositions tend to favor his chamber music. Derby 1981–1982, Link 1994, Eisenlohr 1999, Noubel 2003, Boland 2006, Roeder 2006, and Mailman 2009 are analytical studies of specific pieces. Garrison 1994 includes primary sources on the composition of Scrivo in vento, and Neidich 2008 is a firsthand account of working with Carter on his chamber music with clarinet. Koivisto 2004 considers the harmonic organization of Carter’s orchestral composition Remembrance.

                                                                            • Boland, Marguerite. “‘Linking’ and ‘Morphing’: Harmonic Flow in Elliott Carter’s Con Leggerezza Pensosa.” Tempo 60.237 (2006): 33–43.

                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S0040298206000209Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                              A valuable and influential analytical article that describes Carter’s harmonic practice in terms of two types of motion between all-trichord hexachords. The approach to harmonic analysis Boland develops here has broad applicability to Carter’s late music.

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                                                                              • Coulembier, Klaas. “Multi-Temporality: Analyzing Simultaneous Time Layers in Selected Compositions by Elliott Carter and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf.” DM diss., University of Leuven, 2013.

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                                                                                Brief chapters on structural polyrhythms and sketch studies precede a detailed analytical study of Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra (1969), three songs from the cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1975), and Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux (1984).

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                                                                                • Coulembier, Klaas. “Static Structure, Dynamic Form: An Analysis of Elliott Carter’s Concerto for Orchestra.” Perspectives of New Music 54.1 (2016): 97–136.

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                                                                                  A detailed analysis of the structural polyrhythms in Carter’s composition, informed by a thorough study of the composer’s sketches and drafts.

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                                                                                  • Derby, Richard. “Carter’s Duo for Violin and Piano.” Perspectives of New Music 20.1–2 (1981–1982): 149–168.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/942410Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    In this detailed analysis, Derby explores the relationship between expression and compositional technique in Carter’s composition. Numerous examples are given of the use of polyrhythms, fixed octave designs, and intervallic partitioning between the two instruments, as means to a variety of expressive ends.

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                                                                                    • Eisenlohr, Henning. Komponieren als Entscheidungsprozess: Studien zur Problematik von Form und Gestalt, dargestellt am Beispiel von Elliott Carters Trilogy for Oboe and Harp (1992). Kassel, Germany: Gustav Bosse, 1999.

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                                                                                      A publication of the author’s dissertation, containing a detailed study of Carter’s Trilogy, and a thoughtful analysis of Carter’s approach to composition and musical form.

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                                                                                      • Garrison, Leonard L. “Elliott Carter’s Scrivo in vento. I: Historical and Analytical Notes.” Flutist Quarterly 19.4 (1994): 86–92.

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                                                                                        First of two parts; see also “Elliott Carter’s Scrivo in vento. II: Performance Notes,” Flutist Quarterly 20.1: 75–80. Garrison was present at the Centre Acanthes symposium during July 1991 and attended both the premiere and the numerous master classes given by the dedicatee of the piece, Robert Aitken. His article includes extensive quotations from letters between Carter and Aitken written as the piece was taking shape, and several examples of revisions made as various performance practice difficulties were encountered. Part II is a performance guide for flutists.

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                                                                                        • Harvey, David. The Later Music of Elliott Carter: A Study in Music Theory and Analysis. New York and London: Garland, 1989.

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                                                                                          A reprint of the author’s 1986 dissertation (Worcester College, Oxford). The “later music” here consists principally of three works: the String Quartet no. 2, the Double Concerto, and the Concerto for Orchestra. There are also brief discussions of the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano and the song “O Breath” from A Mirror on Which to Dwell.

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                                                                                          • Koivisto, Tiina. “Syntactical Space and Registral Spacing in Elliott Carter’s Remembrance.” Perspectives of New Music 42.2 (2004): 158–189.

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                                                                                            A study of Carter’s use of twelve-tone rows, ordered in register, in his 1988 composition for orchestra.

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                                                                                            • Link, John F. “The Composition of Elliott Carter’s Night Fantasies.” Sonus 14.2 (1994): 67–89.

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                                                                                              An analysis of the process by which Carter composed Night Fantasies, informed by a study of the roughly one thousand pages of sketches that exist for the piece.

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                                                                                              • Mailman, Joshua B. “An Imagined Drama of Competitive Opposition in Carter’s Scrivo in Vento, with Notes on Narrative, Symmetry, Quantitative Flux, and Heraclitus.” Music Analysis 28.2–3 (2009): 373–422.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2249.2011.00295.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                An exploration of theoretical models of narrative and “competitive opposition,” and their detailed application to Carter’s 1991 composition for solo flute. Mailman considers the relationship between contrasting musical elements in Carter’s music, and between the music and the sonnet by Petrarch that Carter includes in his program note for the piece.

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                                                                                                • Neidich, Charles. “Composer-Clarinetist Friendship Reflected in New Quintet.” Juilliard Journal 23.7 (April 2008).

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                                                                                                  A brief summary by the noted clarinetist, composer, and conductor of his work with Elliott Carter on Carter’s compositions involving clarinet, from Gra (1993) through the Clarinet Quintet (2007).

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                                                                                                  • Noubel, Max. “Le Quatuor pour hautbois et cordes d’Elliott Carter ou la complexité de l’évidence.” Revue Musicorum 2 (2003).

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                                                                                                    An insightful analysis of Carter’s Oboe Quartet (2001) by a well-known French musicologist.

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                                                                                                    • Roeder, John. “Autonomy and Dialogue in Elliott Carter’s Enchanted Preludes.” In Analytical Studies in World Music. Edited by Michael Tenzer, 377–414. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                      Roeder analyzes the sense of collaboration between the two instruments that emerges in Carter’s duet, in part to counter the emphasis on conflict in much of the literature about Carter’s music.

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                                                                                                      Harmony and Rhythm

                                                                                                      Bernard 1988, Link 1994, and Poudrier 2008 take up different aspects of Carter’s rhythmic procedures. Mead 1995 considers Carter’s use of twelve-tone techniques. Capuzzo 2004 identifies an important source of harmonic coherence in Carter’s late music.

                                                                                                      • Bernard, Jonathan W. “The Evolution of Elliott Carter’s Rhythmic Practice.” Perspectives of New Music 26.2 (1988): 164–203.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/833189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Bernard describes the composition of Carter’s works from the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano through the Double Concerto in terms of a series of progressively more refined rhythmic innovations. Particularly noteworthy is the idea that Carter’s early interest in the “successive” presentation of rhythmic patterns gave way to one in which they are presented “simultaneously.”

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                                                                                                        • Capuzzo, Guy. “The Complement Union Property in the Music of Elliott Carter.” Journal of Music Theory 48.1 (2004): 1–24.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1215/00222909-48-1-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                          An analysis of Carter’s application of an abstract property of set classes to several of his compositions of the 1980s and 1990s.

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                                                                                                          • Link, John F. “Long-Range Polyrhythms in Elliott Carter’s Recent Music.” PhD diss., City University of New York, 1994.

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                                                                                                            An analysis of the structural polyrhythms that are the basis for the rhythmic organization of most of Carter’s large-scale compositions of the 1980s, from Night Fantasies to the Violin Concerto.

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                                                                                                            • Mead, Andrew. “Twelve-Tone Composition and the Music of Elliott Carter.” In Concert Music, Rock, and Jazz since 1945: Essays and Analytic Studies. Edited by Elizabeth West Marvin and Richard Hermann, 67–102. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                              Mead “examines certain pitch structures in Carter’s music using tools of twelve-tone theory in order to suggest commonalities with other composers’ practice, while highlighting the individual and creative ways Carter has enriched and extended certain familiar theoretical ideas.”

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                                                                                                              • Poudrier, Ève. “Toward a General Theory of Polymeter: Polymetric Potential and Realization in Elliott Carter’s Solo and Chamber Instrumental Works after 1980.” PhD diss., City University of New York, 2008.

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                                                                                                                An ambitious study of metrical organization in Carter’s later music, drawing on the author’s own research in music perception.

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                                                                                                                Carter’s Writings

                                                                                                                Many of Carter’s writings have appeared in two or more different forms and in different publications. Some have been reprinted unaltered, others under a different title or with minor additions or cuts, and some have been substantially revised. Carter 1977 and Carter 1997 are the two primary collections of Carter’s writings in English, with considerable overlap between the two volumes. Carter 1998 provides French translations of selected essays. In Carter 2002, the composer lays out the harmonic materials used in much of his music.

                                                                                                                • Carter, Elliott. The Writings of Elliott Carter. Edited by Else Stone and Kurt Stone. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.

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                                                                                                                  A collection of most of Carter’s published writings up to 1977, arranged chronologically.

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                                                                                                                  • Carter, Elliott. Collected Essays and Lectures, 1937–1995. Edited by Jonathan W. Bernard. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                    A substantially enlarged and updated collection, including most of the contents of Carter 1977, together with many essays published here for the first time. The essays are ordered by topic, with additional commentary by Carter and Jonathan W. Bernard.

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                                                                                                                    • Carter, Elliott. La dimension du temps: Seize essais sur la musique. Edited by Philippe Albèra and Vincent Barras. Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions Contrechamps, 1998.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.4000/books.contrechamps.2052Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      French translations of some of Carter’s essays.

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                                                                                                                      • Carter, Elliott. Harmony Book. Edited by Nicholas Hopkins and John F. Link. New York: Carl Fischer, 2002.

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                                                                                                                        Carter’s encyclopedia of the harmonic materials that he used in many of his compositions. The volume also includes annotations, an analytical essay, and an interview with Carter.

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                                                                                                                        Interviews

                                                                                                                        Carter gave many hundreds of interviews over the course of his career, making this category a particularly large and valuable source of information. Interviews appeared regularly in newspapers, magazines, concert programs, scholarly journals, books, films, and television programs in many languages. Two book-length interviews—Edwards 1971 and Restagno 1991—are particularly noteworthy. Other interviews are useful snapshots of Carter’s thinking at different stages of his career. Boretz 1970, Gagne and Caras 1982, Dufallo 1989, and Bernard 1990 span Carter’s “middle period,” while Oteri 2000, Baker 2002, and Meyer 2003 cover the period of Carter’s later music. Edwards, et al. 1992 provides French translations of several interviews.

                                                                                                                        • Baker, Alan. “An Interview with Elliott Carter.” American Mavericks. American Public Media, 2002.

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                                                                                                                          A wide-ranging interview moving chronologically through Carter’s life, with many interesting digressions.

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                                                                                                                          • Bernard, Jonathan W. “An Interview with Elliott Carter.” Perspectives of New Music 28.2 (1990): 180–214.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/833018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            An extensive interview touching on a number of subjects of interest to music theorists, and to readers interested in Carter’s compositional methods.

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                                                                                                                            • Boretz, Benjamin. “Conversation with Elliott Carter.” Perspectives of New Music 8.2 (1970): 1–22.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/832445Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              A highly abstract and philosophical discussion that provides a valuable source of information about Carter’s thinking in the late 1960s.

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                                                                                                                              • Dufallo, Richard. “Elliott Carter.” In Trackings: Composers Speak with Richard Duffalo. By Richard Duffalo, 269–285. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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                                                                                                                                This wide-ranging interview, conducted in 1986, is particularly good on Carter’s early career, including his relationship with Charles Ives, the influence of the early modernist composers, and Carter’s experiences as a student in Boston, Cambridge, and Paris.

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                                                                                                                                • Edwards, Allen. Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds: A Conversation with Elliott Carter. New York: Norton, 1971.

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                                                                                                                                  This book-length “conversation,” modeled on the Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft dialogues, consists of a “condensed, reordered, and partly rewritten transcript” of interviews conducted from 1968 to 1970. It remains one of the most often-cited sources on Carter and his music.

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                                                                                                                                  • Edwards, Allen, Charles Rosen, and Heinz Holliger. Entretiens avec Elliott Carter. Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions Contrechamps, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                    A collection of French translations of excerpts from three interviews.

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                                                                                                                                    • Gagne, Cole, and Tracy Caras. “Elliott Carter.” In Soundpieces: Interviews with American Composers. Compiled by Cole Gagne and Tracy Caras, 87–99. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                      A very brief biographical introduction and a catalogue of works from 1933 to 1980 frame this interview conducted in 1975. The conversation touches on Carter’s neoclassical period, metric modulation, electronic music, Carter’s education and background, twelve-tone and aleatoric techniques, the first three string quartets, the Concerto for Orchestra, and vocal music.

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                                                                                                                                      • Meyer, Felix. “Elliott Carter in Conversation with Felix Meyer, New York, April 20, 2001.” In Lauds and Lamentations: Music of Elliott Carter and Isang Yun. Conducted by Heinz Holliger. ECM New Series 1848/49. Munich: ECM Records, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                        A very useful interview in which Carter discusses the changes in his compositional approach in his music after 1995, printed in the liner notes of this CD.

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                                                                                                                                        • Oteri, Frank J. “The Career of a Century.” NewMusicBox (4 February 2000).

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                                                                                                                                          A lengthy interview covering a wide range of topics, from history and aesthetics to Carter’s recent compositional activity.

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                                                                                                                                          • Restagno, Enzo. Elliott Carter: In Conversation with Enzo Restagno for Settembre Musica 1989. Translated by Katherine Silberblatt. ISAM Monographs 32. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                            A transcript of interviews conducted in 1989 in connection with the Settembre Musica festival in Turin, Italy. Subjects includes Carter’s experiences as a boy growing up in New York City, his studies with Nadia Boulanger, and his feelings about Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, Arnold Schoenberg, and many other composers, writers, and artists. The second half is a discussion of Carter’s career and his compositions to 1988.

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                                                                                                                                            Carter in Context

                                                                                                                                            Sources in this section are primarily concerned with the historical context in which Carter’s music first came to widespread public attention, and with the development of his compositional approach and aesthetic preoccupations over the course of his career.

                                                                                                                                            Early Reception History

                                                                                                                                            Although Carter was well known among composers in New York, his music was not frequently performed before the 1960s. Thus, essays, reviews, and biographical articles played a large role in publicizing his early work. Reis 1938 gives valuable information about pieces Carter later destroyed. Rosenfeld 1938 is an early review by an influential critic. Goldman 1951, Skulsky 1953, Glock 1955, Goldman 1957, and Kerman 1958 are early and influential articles, all of which helped to shape the public perception of Carter and his music. Porter 1978 is a collection of reviews from the 1970s by an especially astute critic.

                                                                                                                                            • Glock, William. “A Note on Elliott Carter.” The Score and I.M.A. Magazine 12 (1955): 47–52.

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                                                                                                                                              Glock begins with a strong endorsement of Carter’s music, identifying the Piano Sonata as a major turning point in his career. His primary purpose, though, is to describe the workings of metric modulation, using examples from the Sonata for Violoncello and Piano and the String Quartet no. 1.

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                                                                                                                                              • Goldman, Richard Franko. “Curent Chronicle.” Musical Quarterly 37.1 (1951): 83–84.

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                                                                                                                                                A rave review, with musical examples, of Carter’s Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, which Goldman describes as “one of those rare works that tempt one to extremes of praise.” This important early article is also the source of the term “metrical modulation,” which is coined here by Goldman. Reprinted in Goldman’s Selected Essays and Reviews 1948–1968, edited by Dorothy Klotzman (Brooklyn: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1980), pp. 69–74.

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                                                                                                                                                • Goldman, Richard Franko. “The Music of Elliott Carter.” Musical Quarterly 43.2 (1957): 151–170.

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                                                                                                                                                  An early and important survey of Carter’s compositions from his first student works through the Variations for Orchestra. Goldman identifies Carter’s music as “perhaps the most significant American development of the last ten years” (p. 152). Reprinted in Goldman’s Selected Essays and Reviews 1948–1968, edited by Dorothy Klotzman (Brooklyn: Institute for Studies in American Music, 1980), pp. 33–47.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Kerman, Joseph. “American Music: The Columbia Series.” Hudson Review 11.3 (1958): 420–430.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/3848618Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    The compositions in the Modern American Music Series of recordings made by Columbia Records were chosen by a committee that included the composers Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Henry Cowell, and William Schuman. Kerman devotes a large portion of his review of the series to an unusually balanced and detailed discussion of Carter’s String Quartet no. 1.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Porter, Andrew. Music of Three Seasons: 1974–1977. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978.

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                                                                                                                                                      This volume contains reviews that first appeared in the New Yorker of the premiere performances of nearly all of Carter’s compositions between 1974 and 1977. The work of an exceptionally well-prepared and insightful critic, they provide a valuable record of the reception history of Carter’s music. A companion volume, Music of Three More Seasons: 1977–1980, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1981.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Reis, Claire C. “Elliott C. Carter.” In Composers in America: Biographical Sketches of Living Composers with a Record of Their Works, 1912–1937. New York: Macmillan, 1938.

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                                                                                                                                                        One of the only surviving records of Carter’s earliest works, most of which he later destroyed. Revised and enlarged edition published in 1947 (New York: Macmillan).

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                                                                                                                                                        • Rosenfeld, Paul. “The Newest American Composers.” Modern Music 15.3 (1938): 153–159.

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                                                                                                                                                          Rosenfeld alludes to the “lyrical and romantic” treatment of Carter’s not-yet-completed Pocahontas, and gives brief overviews of three early pieces: Harvest Home, To Music, and “Let’s Be Gay.”

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                                                                                                                                                          • Skulsky, Abraham. “Elliott Carter.” American Composers Alliance Bulletin (1953): 2–16.

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                                                                                                                                                            This profile of Carter’s life and music up to the String Quartet no. 1 is one of the more substantial early articles. It includes a generous selection of musical examples, as well as a five-page “Chronological List of Carter Works with Reviews.” The latter contains a detailed listing of premieres, together with long quotes from many reviews of Carter’s pieces, dating back to 1937.

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                                                                                                                                                            Aesthetic Outlook

                                                                                                                                                            With his Liberal Arts background and broadly humanistic conception of the arts, Carter drew on a wide range of influences, both musical and nonmusical. Kostelanetz 1968 provides an overview of Carter’s outlook. Gratzer 1994 connects Carter to European traditions, while Guberman 2015 examines his relationship to “serial” music. Bernard 1995 discusses many extra-musical influences on Carter’s thinking, and Meyer 2011 considers the changes in Carter’s music after 1995.

                                                                                                                                                            • Bernard, Jonathan W. “Elliott Carter and the Modern Meaning of Time.” Musical Quarterly 79 (1995): 644–682.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1093/mq/79.4.644Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              A study of the principal influences on Carter’s thinking about musical time. Bernard considers literature, philosophy, dance, and film, including works by Charles Koechlin, Pierre Suvchinsky, Gisèle Brelet, Alfred North Whitehead, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, George Balanchine, and Sergei Eisenstein.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Gratzer, Wolfgang. “Wahlverwandter des Expressionismus: Über Elliott Carters Traditionsverständnis.” In Die neue Musik in Amerika: Über Traditionslosigkeit und Traditionslastigkeit. Edited by Otto Kolleritsch, 113–132. Studien zur Wertungsforschung 27. Vienna: Universal, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                A summary of the European reception history of Carter’s music prefaces a discussion of his Oboe Concerto. Gratzer understands Carter’s music as an expansion of Schoenberg’s idea of developing variation (entwickelnden Variation). In a final section, Gratzer investigates Carter’s understanding of tradition by analyzing the composer’s own writings, particularly the article “Expressionism and American Music.”

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                                                                                                                                                                • Guberman, Daniel A. “Elliott Carter as (Anti-)Serial Composer.” American Music 33.1 (2015): 68–88.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.5406/americanmusic.33.1.0068Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Guberman discusses Carter’s view of his own aesthetic in the context of the various debates about “serial” music that preoccupied many writers in the second half of the 20th century.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Kostelanetz, Richard. “The Astounding Success of Elliott Carter.” High Fidelity 18.5 (1968): 41–45.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Kostelanetz deftly combines a biographical portrait of Carter, a critical summary of his musical career, and excerpts from interviews. The emphasis is biographical: Kostelanetz seems most interested in figuring out what kind of person Carter is and what makes him tick. The result is an especially interesting and balanced profile. Revised version reprinted as “Elliott Carter: Effort and Excellence,” in Kostelanetz’s Master Minds: Portraits of Contemporary American Artists and Intellectuals (Toronto: Macmillan, 1969), pp. 289–303.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Meyer, Felix. “‘. . . keine Geduld mehr für längere Sachen’: Ein Blick auf szei späte Miniaturen von Elliott Carter.” In Ereignis und Exegese: Musikalische Interpretation, Interpretation der Musik. Edited by Camilla Bork, et al., 769–782. Schliengen, Germany: Edition Argus, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                                      An analysis of two pieces representing the texturally sparser style of Carter’s music after 1995: “Re-Statement of Romance” from the Wallace Stevens song cycle In the Distances of Sleep, and Sound Fields for string ensemble.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Compositional Development

                                                                                                                                                                      Much of the early literature on Carter describes the arc of his career in teleological terms as an arduous journey of self-discovery leading to his career-making music of the 1950s and 1960s. More recent attention to both Carter’s early and late music, and to the influence of Cold War politics on his life and work, have led to a more balanced assessment. Meyer 1997 draws connections between Carter and his American contemporaries. Nichols 2016 examines the shift in Carter’s style during the 1950s. Boykan 1964, Gottlieb 2000, Guberman 2012, and Brody 2014 all provide valuable context for Carter’s music and his career success in the 1960s. Rothstein 1988 and Schiff 1989 focus on aesthetic shifts in Carter’s music of the 1980s.

                                                                                                                                                                      • Boykan, Martin. “Elliott Carter and the Postwar Composers.” Perspectives of New Music 2.2 (1964): 125–128.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/832488Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Boykan holds up Carter’s String Quartet no. 1 as a model for younger composers of the postwar generation. Carter’s work “provides a moral lesson” that a composer’s task is to “choose [his or her] language freshly for each work, and to choose from the whole range of musical possibilities” (italics in original). Reprinted in Perspectives on American Composers, edited by Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone (New York: Norton, 1971).

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Brody, Martin. “Cold War Genius: Music and Cultural Diplomacy at the American Academy in Rome.” In Crosscurrents: American and European Music in Interaction, 1900–2000. Edited by Felix Meyer, Carol J. Oja, Wolfgang Rathert, and Anne C. Shreffler, 375–387. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A historical article about the 1954 new music festival “La Musica nel xxo Secolo,” organized by Nicolas Nabokov, at which Carter’s String Quartet no. 1 received an early and influential performance. The festival and Carter’s quartet are situated in the context of “the politics and processes of exporting American modern music abroad during the early phases of the Cold War.”

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Gottlieb, Jane. “Elliott Carter’s Piano Concerto and the Ford Foundation’s Support of American Composers and Performers.” In Pianist, Scholar, Connoisseur: Essays in Honor of Jacob Lateiner. Edited by Bruce Brubaker and Jane Gottlieb, 175–186. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                            A valuable study of the commission, composition, and early performance history of Carter’s Piano Concerto, which was commissioned by the pianist Jacob Lateiner as part of the Ford Foundation’s Program for Concert Artists.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Guberman, Daniel. “Elliott Carter’s Cold War Abandonment of the Chorus.” Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung 25 (2012): 36–40.

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                                                                                                                                                                              A brief, but valuable, article discussing Carter’s views on writing choral music during the Cold War.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Meyer, Felix. “Klassizistische Tendenzen in der amerikanischen Musik der zwanziger bis vierziger Jahre.” In Die klassizistische Moderne in der Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts. Edited by Hermann Danuser, 187–200. Publications of the Paul Sacher Foundation 5. Winterthur, Switzerland: Amadeus Verlag, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Meyer places Carter’s early music together with that of several other pupils of Walter Piston who rejected “Americanism” in favor of a more international neoclassical style, exemplified by Stravinsky and Hindemith.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Nichols, Jeff. “Mistaken Identities in Carter’s Variations for Orchestra.” Elliott Carter Studies Online 1 (2016).

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                                                                                                                                                                                  An analytical study of Carter’s composition that places it at the “stylistic crux” between Carter’s early neoclassical and later “more abstract” orchestral compositions.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Rothstein, Edward. “The Twilight Fantasies of Elliott Carter.” New Republic, 26 December 1988: 23–28.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    In this insightful essay, Rothstein detects a “turning inward” in Carter’s music of the 1980s, anticipating what would become an important aspect of the composer’s later music.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Schiff, David. “Carter’s New Classicism.” College Music Symposium 29 (1989): 115–122.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Schiff critiques Carter’s large-scale works of the 1980s in terms of Roland Barthes’s classification of “classic” and “modern” texts, as expounded in his book S/Z. Carter’s music is said to fall into the “modern” category, “exploding illusions” of unified and continuous space and time that exemplify the “classic” text and requiring a “writerly reader” who will be “no longer a consumer but a producer of the text.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Archival and Internet Resources

                                                                                                                                                                                      Most of Carter’s manuscripts are divided among three collections: The Sammlung Elliott Carter at the Paul Sacher Stiftung has the largest collection. Holograph Music Manuscripts of Elliott Carter (1932–1971) also has a substantial collection of autograph sketches. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has a small collection of documents. Two online resources are notable: ElliottCarter.com is the composer’s official website, and Elliott Carter Studies Online is an online journal devoted to Carter’s music and his life and times.

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