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 IvesIves, Charles
, 1874–1954, American composer and organist, b. Danbury, Conn., grad. Yale, 1898; pupil of Dudley Buck and Horatio Parker. He was an organist (1893–1904) in churches in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.
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, Carter studied with Walter PistonPiston, Walter,
1894–1976, American composer and teacher, b. Rockland, Maine. Piston studied at Harvard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris; he joined the faculty of Harvard in 1926. He became a Guggenheim Fellow in 1934.
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, E. B. Hill, and Gustav HolstHolst, Gustav
, 1874–1934, English composer, studied at the Royal College of Music. Grieg, Richard Strauss, and Ralph Vaughan Williams influenced his early work, but most of his music is highly original.
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 at Harvard and with Nadia BoulangerBoulanger, Nadia
, 1887–1979, French conductor and musician, b. Paris. Boulanger was considered an outstanding teacher of composition. She studied at the Paris Conservatory, where in 1945 she became professor.
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 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 BishopBishop, Elizabeth,
1911–79, American poet, b. Worcester, Mass., grad. Vassar, 1934. During the 1950s and 60s she lived in Brazil, eventually returning to her native New England, where she taught at Harvard (1970–77).
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, 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 MaMa, Yo-Yo
, 1955–, American cellist, b. Paris. The son of musicologist Hiao-Tsun Ma, who left China in the 1930s, he was a musical prodigy, giving a public recital in Paris at the age of six.
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, and 12 Short Epigrams (2012) for piano.


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

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