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With a full orchestra, Elliott Carter can spread his wings with clangorous grandness. When he goes with a smaller unit, as he does here, he can also do wonderful things--expanding on his tonal and timbral studies with telescoped intensity. This generous 78-minute collection begins in 1993 with Charles Neidich unfurling Gra for the solo clarinet, a piece that rivals anything on the extraordinary Giacinto Scelsi's Complete Works for the Clarinet for breadth and investigative power. Carter, an octogenarian when he wrote Gra, has, this collection shows, been on similar paths since at least 1948, when the CD's closer, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, came to be. It shows off Carter's proclivity for middle-register grounding and fast outward motion, always tracking toward the unfamiliar and creating electric excitement. As a compendium of one of the greatest American composer's solo and chamber works, Eight Compositions can't be beat. --Andrew Bartlett

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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection by a genuinely colossal figure. June 30 2003
Format:Audio CD
Elliott Carter (b. 1908) is a composer whose music seems to inspire either love or hatred, with little in between. Carter started out studying with Nadia Boulanger in the 1930s, then wrote several years' worth of neo-Copland music before finally finding his own voice in the mid-1940s. Beginning with his Piano Sonata, Carter began writing in an exclusively atonal idiom, constructing works that are breathtaking in their complexity and integrity.
This is not music for the dilettantes who like to play Schubert like muzak when they are cleaning their house or chatting with friends. This is uncompromising, "serious" (often playfully so) music intended for listeners who approach it with the respect it deserves and with the willingness to spend the time required (however long that may be) to appreciate it. If you're looking for instant comprehension, look into [stuff] like "The World's Most Soothing Classical Album" and other corporate delights.
This is a truly invaluable collection, with important works culled from 45 years of Carter's creative development. The earliest work here was written when the composer was 40 and the latest when he was 85, but evident throughout is his daring, originality, extraordinary technique and adherence to his own creative vision. This is beautiful music by virtually any measure. The performances, mostly by the Group for Contemporary Music, are superb. This collection speaks for itself.
Milton Babbitt once asked, "Who cares if you listen?" The point of that notorious essay was that there is now more to music than Tchaikovsky, and that composers have an obligation to themselves and their art and not to close-minded, musically unlettered philistines.
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4.0 out of 5 stars How refreshing such vehement dislike ... Feb. 7 2002
By Jules
Format:Audio CD
Lloyd Schwartz, in his liner notes to Speculum Musicae's essential recordings of Carter's vocal works (Bridge 9014) writes of his early Frost settings that they are "like the early realistic drawings of a great abstract painter". It would be difficult to come up with a better analogy, not only for Carter's post-1950 compositions but for all works that have willfully surrendered any notion of conventional tonal centers. Tonality in this equation is the equivalent of the figurative in painting. Non tonal works are correspondingly abstract, like the paintings of Pollock or Motherwell: all figurative elements in such works are either accidental or part of a designated encounter of tonal and non tonal aspects (as in Maxwell Davies or the de Koonig of the 'women' series). Now, it is quite clear that, in music as in painting or even dance, there will a number of quite intelligent persons who will never accept the value of abstraction, who think abstract expressionism for instance so much tosh, a Greenbergian legerdemain concocted to brutally anchor american art in the history books as new, valid in its own right, not sub- par europeanism. And it is in fact unfortunate that such progressive art has too often been brandished as an ideological jackhammer, out to bring down the venerable Penn stations of the prevalent taste: this is what happens when true creativity gets ossified in academia. But for those who do not find abstraction anathema, who are as they say adventurous, it should be made clear that all the hyperbolic smoke surrounding Carter is not without fire. He may not be the greatest american composer just like Pollock is hardly the greatest american painter but there are brilliant things to discover here. Read more ›
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1.0 out of 5 stars CONDEMNING OUT OF IGNORANCE??? June 16 2001
Format:Audio CD
I happen to enjoy a goodly collection of so-called "modern" music of the twentieth century--- surely, I do have my likes and dislikes, as we all do. But there is a point where (as with the self-indulgent music of Danielpour, Rouse, Maxwell-Davies, et. al.) I simply draw the line, and no argument seems adequate enough to justify what I hear.
Such is the case with Carter's EIGHT PIECES. This is cacaphony, plain and simple. Squeaking, scratching, clawing. I don't need to have music like this to "impress" on me the "anxiety" produced by our anxiety-producing society. Besides, I think there are much better ways to produce the SAME results, emotionally, with music that is tonally and lyrically rich. Some composers come to mind: Arnold, Bax, Rubbra, Simpson, Blake, Lloyd, Moeran, Bridge.
These "compositions" prove, if anything, that Carter happened to be devoid of musical inspiration at that moment. [I won't hold it against him--- we ALL have our "moments."] But, had I only these pieces to judge him by, it would be an open and shut case, frankly. [However, I know that he has written some other music of worth; so, I'm dismissing these EIGHT PIECES as fragmented anomalies.]
Those of you into experimentation may well find these... curious. And that's just fine. As for me, if I never hear them again, it will be too soon.
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1.0 out of 5 stars MUSIC YOU CAN CERTAINLY LIVE WITHOUT (HEARING) Sept. 26 2000
Format:Audio CD
My modernist-centered friend, Frank, whose composer favorites include Simpson, Harris, Chavez, Maxwell-Davies, Rubbra, Arnold, et. al., might suggest that in tandem with this gaggle, Elliott Carter's EIGHT COMPOSITIONS reflect the notion that such works mirror the tenuous, stressful and chaotic nature of "man in the latter part of the twentieth century." And as such is completely representative of the "music of our time."
Bunk!
To my way of thinking, this is NOT music (our "time" or otherwise): it's musical notation of the most random, aggressive, argumentative, annoying and aurally irritating kind. Like fingernails scraped across a blackboard, or a child's relentless pounding on the keys of a piano. THAT kind of so-called "music."
Each of the EIGHT COMPOSITIONS has its own unique and obnoxious quality or characteristic; luckily, though, with the exception of the Duo (1974) for Violin and Piano and the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948--- egad! my birth year!), which run a seemingly endless 21:27 and 19:55, respectively, the remaining six COMPOSITIONS are mercifully brief.
Mercifully!
Honestly, I see no beauty in any of these pieces, no humanity, nor any depth, no insights to marvel at, no real ongoing lyricism or melody.
No. This is brutal, angry, confrontational stuff--- compositions that spark anxiety and discomfort. (Hopefully, not the "stuff" dreams are made of!) If I didn't know better, I might think these the random scribblings of a composer who was ineptly trying to impress by creating the most incomprehensible of modernistic utterings--- for effect. Well, I'm not impressed.
More like assaulted. Or is it insulted? Maybe both.
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