Carter, Elliott Cook, Jr.

Carter, Elliott Cook, Jr., 1908–2012, American composer, b. New York City. Carter is considered by many to be the most important late-20th-century American composer. Mentored early in life by Charles Ives, Carter studied with Walter Piston, E. B. Hill, and Gustav Holst at Harvard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris (1932–35). His early work was neo-Classical or neo-Romantic, but his style changed at mid-century, as exemplified in his first string quartet (1951), a breakthrough work. Carter's complex mature music, which combined elements of European and American modernism, is organized into highly intellectualized contrapuntal patterns. He characteristically used constantly changing tempo as an element of form, notably in his technique of “metrical modulation,” his most famous musical innovation. The pace of his composition increased in the 1980s and many of his late pieces often have lyrical elements despite their essentially dissonant nature. Highlights from an unusually long (he composed in ten decades) and prolific (he wrote more than 130 pieces) musical career include the ballet Pocahontas (1939), a piano sonata (1946), a cello sonata (1948), five string quartets (1951, 1958–59, 1973, 1986, 1995), Variations (1953–55) for orchestra, the Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano with Two Chamber Orchestras (1961), a piano concerto (1966), a concerto for orchestra (1969), A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1976) for soprano and nine players to poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Night Fantasies (1980) for piano, Changes (1983) for guitar, Adagio Tenebroso (1995) for orchestra, the opera What's Next? (1999), a cello concerto (2001) composed for Yo-Yo Ma, and 12 Short Epigrams (2012) for piano.

See J. W. Bernard, ed., Elliot Carter: Collected Essays and Lectures (1998), N. Hopkins and J. F. Link, ed., Harmony Book (2002), and F. Meyer and A. C. Shreffler, ed., Elliott Carter: A Centennial Portrait in Letters and Documents (2008); biography by D. Schiff (2019); biographical study by J. Wierzbicki (1998); D. Schiff, The Music of Elliot Carter (1983, rev. ed. 1998), and M. Boland and J. F. Link, Elliot Carter Studies (2012); F. Scheffer, A Labyrinth in Time (documentary, 2004).

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