Home / General / Elliott Carter, RIP

Elliott Carter, RIP


The great composer has passed at the age of 103.

Here’s a recording of his 1976 piece “A Symphony of Three Orchestras,” performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic.

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  • Steve LaBonne

    How sad that we will have no more wonderful pieces from him. But what an inexhaustible treasure-trove he has left us.

  • howard

    I’m not sure there’s ever been an outpouring of new compositions above the age of 90 as we saw with carter.

    • The Dark Avenger

      This fellow came close:

      Brian acquired a legendary status at the time of his rediscovery in the 1950s and 1960s for the many symphonies he had managed to write. By the end of his life he had completed 32, an unusually large number for any composer since Haydn or Mozart. More remarkably, he completed 14 of these symphonies in his 80s, and seven more in his early 90s.

      • howard

        i know of brian because phil lesh of the grateful dead pushed a rex foundation grant his way some years back, but i didn’t realize how much of his work came late in life: yes, i would say in terms of sheer quantity, he does look right up there.

        for carter, the quality remained high until the end; since i’ve only once heard a brian work, and that was an earlier one, i can’t speak to that.

        • Lesh has done a lot of good work exposing the world to utterly unknown composers. That’s a resource I need to take better advantage of.

          • Vance Maverick

            My teacher David Sheinfeld got some kind of grant from Lesh, late in life — age 85 or so. Well deserved, though I don’t know if he managed to make much more music after that.

            Perhaps I risk being labelled retrograde or philistine in this company, but I must confess that Carter the composer leaves me cold. (Nothing against him personally, of course.) This piece, for instance, includes many long lines made up to me what sound to me like a mere jumble of note lengths rather than a rhythm. Compare, say, Ruggles, or the best of Schoenberg, for punch.

            • Carter was awesome; not always my favorite, but awesome.

              Also: Ruggles was a badass. Just sayin’.

  • Steve LaBonne

    I’m not sure there’s ever been an example of any kind of serious creative/intellectual work of that quantity and quality at such an age. In music only Verdi comes anywhere near.

    • Robert P.

      I’d say that Ralph Vaughan Williams came close, and Leos Janacek somewhat less so.

      • somethingblue

        Ned Rorem will turn 90 next year.

      • Robert P.

        By “somewhat less so” I meant in age (Janacek was in his 70s for his final works, vs. Verdi and RVW in their 80’s), not in quality. Janacek died at the absolute top of his game – the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, and the second string quartet are masterpieces.

        In the natural sciences, there are many examples of people who kept going into their 80’s and beyond. Physics has Chandrasekhar, Chemistry has Joel Hildebrand (who was still coming in to his office every day at age 100), and Biology has Ernst Mayr and Jon Maynard Smith. But I can’t think of any examples of a natural scientist who did his *best* work after age 70, as Verdi and Janacek did. (RVW is more like the scientists I listed: his 8th and 9th symphonies are remarkable achievements for an octogenarian, but his greatest works came some decades earlier, IMO.)

  • somethingblue

    A century hence, I suspect this will be remembered as the major event of November 2012.

    • Could well be. In the short term though, the major event is that I don’t have to watch any more political ads.

      • somethingblue

        I just told my wife, who said

        “Barfight, I imagine. Only a matter of time.”

  • parrot

    bummer … great composer, awesome human being … thanks for the obit heads up …

  • JupiterPluvius

    What a long and influential life. He’ll be missed.

  • It is my great shame that I learned this on LGM. Somehow I’m sure this means that law school is a terrible idea.

    Seriously, though, from the NYT:

    His music publishing company, Boosey & Hawkes, called him an “iconic American composer.” It didn’t give the cause of his death.

    Really? HE WAS 103.

    He also taught at St. John’s College from 1940-44(Annapolis version, but still).

    And I didn’t love everything he wrote, but he was pretty spectacular.

    103. Unreal.

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