Twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, first composer to receive the United States National Medal of Arts, one of the few composers ever awarded Germany’s Ernst Von Siemens Music Prize, and in 1988 made “Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the Government of France, Elliott Carter is internationally recognized as one of the leading American voices in classical music. He recently received the Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award, bestowed by the Principality of Monaco, and was one of a handful of living composers elected to the Classical Music Hall of Fame.
December 11, 2008 marked Carter’s 100th birthday, bringing salutes from performing organizations around the globe. A number of recordings were issued including Carter: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 5 from Pacifica Quartet and Elliott Carter: A Nonesuch Retrospective. A four-disc set, the collection includes most of the recordings Nonesuch made of Carter’s music between 1968 and 1985. The event launched major celebrations around the world, including dedicated festivals at the BBC Proms and at Tanglewood.
First encouraged toward a musical career by his friend and mentor Charles Ives, Carter was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the first time in 1960 for his groundbreaking compositions for the string quartet medium, and was soon thereafter hailed by Igor Stravinsky for his Double Concerto for harpsichord, piano and two chamber orchestras (1961) and Piano Concerto (1967), both of which Stravinsky dubbed “masterpieces”.
But the creative burst began in earnest during the 1980s, with major orchestral essays such as Oboe Concerto (1986–87), Three Occasions (completed 1989) and his enormously successful Violin Concerto (1990). The composer’s astonishing late-career creative burst has continued unabated. The first few weeks of 2004 brought a pair of acclaimed new scores: Micomicón (2002) for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the incisive Dialogues(2003) commissioned by the London Sinfonietta. In the United States, the Boston Symphony Orchestra brought Carter’s Three Illusions for Orchestra to life in October 2005, a piece which the Boston Globe calls “surprising, inevitable, and vividly orchestrated.”
Carter’s first opera, What Next? (1997–98), commissioned by the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, was introduced there in 1999 under Daniel Barenboim and made its staged premiere in July of 2006 at the Tanglewood Music Festival under James Levine.
Carter continues to show his mastery in smaller forms as well. Along with a large number of brief solo and chamber works, his later years have brought major essays such as Triple Duo (1983), Nine by Five (2009), Quintet (piano and winds, 1991), and String Quartet No.5 (1995), composed for the Arditti Quartet. Another dedicated advocate of Carter’s music, Ursula Oppens, joined forces with the Arditti Quartet to give the premiere ofQuintet for Piano and String Quartet (1997) in November 1998 at the Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium in Washington. Recent premieres of chamber works include the playfully humorous Mosaic (2004), with the Nash Ensemble in 2005 as well as three premieres in 2006: Intermittances (2005), a piano solo co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall Corporation and The Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and performed by Peter Serkin, In the Distances of Sleep (2006), with Michelle DeYoung and the MET Chamber Ensemble under James Levine, andCaténaires (2006), a solo piano piece performed by Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
Still extraordinarily prolific at 103 years of age, recent works include the Flute Concerto (2008), premiered by Emmanuel Pahud, flute, and the International Chamber Music Ensemble, led by Daniel Barenboim; What are Years, a 2009 joint commission of the Aldeburgh and Tanglewood Festivals; Tintinabulation (2008), premiered in 2008 by the New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble at Jordan Hall in Boston; and the Concertino for Bass Clarinet and Chamber Orchestra (2009), premiered in Toronto in December 2010 by Virgil Blackwell and the New Music Concerts Ensemble. An all-Carter concert in honor of the composer’s 103rd birthday in December 2011 featured the world premieres of String Trio (2011) and A Sunbeam’s Architecture (2010), as well as two surprise pieces composed in the month preceding the concert: Rigmarole and Mnemosyné.
(Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.)