Elliot Carter Dies: Award-Winning Composer Passes At 103

Melissa Stusinski - Author

Nov. 3 2016, Updated 9:41 p.m. ET

Elliot Carter died on Monday at the age of 103. The Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer passed away at his home in New York City.

Carter was known for fusing European and American modernist traditions in seminal, yet formidable works and lived to hear ovations for music that were one thought to be less than listener-friendly, reports The Washington Post.

Carter’s assistant, Virgil Blackwell, confirmed the composer’s death but was not able to disclose why he passed away. The composer’s career was long in the making. While he didn’t find his true style or voice for which he is famous for until he was 40, he was able to receive acclaim by some critics and composers.

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Igor Stravinsky called Elliot Carter’s “Double Concerto for Harpsichord, Piano and Two Chamber Orchestras,” completed in 1961, the first American masterpiece.

Much of his music was complicated. It was difficult to listen, play, and likely to write. While it was difficult, it also embodied a sense of simplicity. Carter emphasized connections between his music and the world around it. He also said that he sought to represent the pace of the 20th century.

When describing Elliot Carter’s music, composer and musicologist David Schiff stated:

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“A piano accelerates to a flickering tremolo as a harpsichord slows to silence. Second violin and viola, half of a quartet, sound cold, mechanical pulses, while first violin and cello, the remaining duo, play with intense expressive passion. Two, three or four orchestras superimpose clashing, unrelated sounds. A bass lyrically declaims classical Greek against a mezzo-soprano’s American patter.”

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Bloomberg notes that Carter was interviewed when he turned 100. He stated:

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“The earlier part of my life I felt I was more or less exploring what I would like to write. Now I’ve found it out, and I don’t have to think so much about it.”

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While Carter’s music carried several traits, his desire for change, whether it was meter or mood, was the most important and consistent one.


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