Monday, November 05, 2012

Elliott Carter: Century's End

Thinking about the extraordinary life and career of Elliott Carter, who died today a month shy of his 104th birthday, I'm humbled by all I do not know about his music - and all of his music I have yet to discover. I can say that The Minotaur (1945) is a great piece of theatrical music, lively and knotty like Stravinsky can be, adding layers of 20th century psychologizing to the ancient tale. I can certainly point to Night Fantasies (1980) as one of the definitive 20th century piano pieces. His string quartets are a fascinating tangle that are forever fresh at each listen.

I have always been a fan of percussion pieces (Nonesuch's collection was a seminal album for me) so I was delighted to discover Tintinnabulation back in 2010, when my daughter (then 11) and I made our first foray to Tanglewood for their Sunday morning chamber concerts. It turned out to be a great work for six percussionists, which displayed Carter's deep engagement with the percussion repertoire, and with the materials the instruments were made of. In the program notes he remarked that he made sure not to include anything, like marimba, that could add a touch of melody. This was about surfaces being struck. Percussion.

The crowd responded with quite an ovation, which only grew louder when Carter himself stood to acknowledge it. That was a nice surprise for my me and my daughter. Carter then sat down and enjoyed the rest of the concert, alert and involved at the age of 101.

Here's an excellent performance of Tintinnabulation. And there are hundreds more works to discover.

Elliot Carter - Tintinnabulation from Charles Martin on Vimeo.

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