Elliott (Cook) Carter


Well into his nineties with no sign of slowing down, Elliott Carter was born in New York in 1908 and educated at Harvard.  He travelled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger and proceeded to write numerous attractively tonal works.  Although never allying himself with any compositional school, Carter's music became more adventurous towards the end of the fourties, by which time he had become professor of composition first at Peabody Conservatory then Columbia University.  Subsequent grants and commissions have enabled him to compose full time, returning sporadically to teaching out of choice.

Although influenced in the early days by Stravinsky and Hindemith, Carter began to develop a unique voice and set of aesthetics.  A particular innovation was the "metric modulation", present in the First String Quartet (1951), a technique of using polyrhythms to change seamlessly between tempi.  This can be seen as a development of Charles Ives' use of rhythmically independent layers of melody.  In his orchestral works, Carter has striven to avoid the glutenous tuttis of late romanticism and expand the timbral vocabulary.  Often playing sections of the orchestra off against each other, Carter was instrumental in the revival of a form in his Concerto for Orchestra of 1969.

Carter enjoyed a renewed period of prolific composition through his eighties, and is still producing major works such as his Boston Concerto (2002). 

Related composers: Schoenberg, Varèse, Berg

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