Elliott Cook Carter, Jr. (born December 11, 1908) is an American composer of classical music.
Carter was born in New York, New York. He was encouraged as a young musician by Charles Ives and read English and music at Harvard University, where his professors included Walter Piston and Gustav Holst. He then went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, returning to the USA in 1935 where he directed the Ballet Caravan. From 1939 to 1941 he taught courses in physics, mathematics and classical Greek, in addition to music, at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland.
During World War II, Carter worked for the Office of War Information. He later held teaching posts at the Peabody Conservatory (1946 - 1948), Columbia University, Queens College, New York (1955-56), Yale University (1960-62), Cornell University (from 1967) and the Juilliard School (from 1972). In 1967 he was appointed a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Style and Works
Carter's earlier works are influenced by Stravinsky and Hindemith, and are mainly neoclassical in aesthetic. He had a strict and thorough training in counterpoint, from medieval polyphony through Stravinsky, and this shows in his earliest music, such as the ballet Pocohontas (1938-9). Some of his music during the Second World War is frankly diatonic, and includes a melodic lyricism reminiscent of Samuel Barber. Interestingly, Carter abandoned neoclassicism around the same time Stravinsky did, saying that he felt he had been evading vital areas of feeling.
His music after 1950 is typically atonal, rarely static and often rhythmically complex, indicated by the invention of the term metric modulation to describe the frequent rhythmic changes found in his work. Among his better known works are the Variations for Orchestra (1954-5); the Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1959-61); the Piano Concerto (1967), written as an 85th birthday present for Igor Stravinsky; the Concerto for Orchestra (1969), loosely based on a poem by Saint-John Perse; and A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976). He has also written five string quartets, of which the second and third won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1960 and 1973 respectively. Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (1993-1996) is his largest orchestral work, complex in structure but fascinating in its use of contrasting layers of instrumental textures, from delicate wind solos to crashing brass and percussion outbursts.
In spite of a usually rigorous derivation of all pitch content of a piece from a source chord, or series of chords, Carter never abandons lyricism, and ensures that a text is sung intelligibly, sometimes even simply. In A Mirror on Which to Dwell (1975) (based on poems by Elizabeth Bishop) Carter writes colorful, subtle, transparently clear music; yet almost every pitch in the piece is derived from the content of a single sonority. While Carter seems to set up rigorous systems for deriving the pitch content of a piece, he deviates from them on occasion: not every note can be explained with the same rigor as can be done, for example, in Webern.
String Quartet No.1 (1951)
String Quartet No.2 (1959)
String Quartet No.3 (1971)
Duo for Violin & Piano (1974)
A Mirror on Which to Dwell for Soprano and Ensemble (1975)
Syringa for Mezzo-Soprano, Bass-Baritone, Guitar and Ensemble (1978)
Three Poems of Robert Frost for Baritone and Ensemble (1942, orchestrated 1980)
In Sleep, in Thunder for Tenor and Ensemble (1981)
String Quartet No.4 (1986)
Enchanted Preludes for Flute and Cello (1988)
Gra for Clarinet (1993)
String Quartet No.5 (1995)