Elliott Carter Studies Hardcover – Sep 24 2013
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"In sum, this is a most valuable addition to the growing body of Elliott Carter literature. The fourteen chapters present a broad range of topics and approaches to this music, and address pieces throughout his career. As I have noted above, a few of the essays, particularly those by Heinemann, Ravenscroft, and Schmidt should become essential reading for musicians undertaking their initial forays into Carter's unique approach to composition. Finally, the book is well edited, and the musical examples are beautifully engraved." --NOTES
Elliott Carter's extraordinarily long musical career has engaged with many musical developments of the twentieth century. This collection of essays presents a diverse set of viewpoints on Carter's music, from the neo-classicism of the interwar period, through post-war modernism, to the reshaping of a modernist aesthetic in his late style.See all Product Description
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The fourteen contributions here come from a number of scholars both well-known and budding, and they cover many different facets of Carter's music. Jonathan W. Bernard surveys Carter's early, neoclassical phase, defends it as a worthy body of work, and points to some features more advanced than in his American contemporaries' music. Carter's "late music", i.e. from the 1980s on, is the topic of a couple of chapters: John Link offers a general survey, while John Roeder shows how Carter's late music with its cheerfully coexisting instrumental lines reflects a vision of human cooperation.
Certain of Carter's pieces get an in-depth look here: the Boston Concerto and ASKO Concerto (Marguerite Boland), the string quartets (Dörte Schmidt), the Symphonia (Arnold Whittall), the soloist+ensemble concertos of the composer's final two decades (Stephen Heinemann), and the Three Illusions (Max Noubel). Andrew Mead's contribution "Rhythm as a formal determinant in certain works of Elliott Carter" abounds with analysis of the String Quartet No. 1, "Esprit rude/esprit doux", the Two Diversions, Oboe Concerto, Triple Duo, and more.
Two of the chapters here examine Carter's sketches, which the composer has donated over the years and are now spread over several archives. Felix Meyer looks at Carter's preparatory work for a Sonatina for Oboe and Harpsichord, a work commissioned just as his style was changing in the 1940s, but which was never completed. Stephen Sonderberg describes the sketches held by the Library of Congress, which reflect Carter's output from 1932 to 1971.
Some of the papers are dedicated to the relationship between music and text in Carter's vocal music, namely Guy Capuzzo's paper on text, music and irony in "What Next?" (Capuzzo had already written a monograph on the opera), Annette van Dyck-Hemming on Carter's little-known early work "The Defense of Corinth", and Brenda Ravenscroft on Carter's song cycles.
While the Cambridge Composer Studies series is a scholarly endeavour and the contributions here assume a rigorous understanding of music theory, this collection will prove worthwhile for many layman readers who are Carter fans, not just academics. Certainly Whittall's contribution on Carter's take on thematicism, which examines the woodwind solos in the Symphonia, has helped me enjoy that vast work even more.
2) "Elliott Carter's late music" by John Link,
3) "The search for order: Carter's 'Symphonia' and late-modern thematicism" by Arnold Whittall, and
7) "'I try to write music that will appeal to an intelligent listener's ear.' On Elliott Carter's string quartets" by Dorte Schmidt
Link charts Carter's path to his simpler, more lyrical late period, and documents the deliberate choices he made that resulted in an amazing increase in productivity. Carter simplified the technical demands of his music, "...reducing the number of contrapuntal voices, and drastically simplifying his rhythmic notation" (43). He made the music easier to play, and also easier to write by ceasing to painstakingly fit every component into an overarching structure (44). Link notes that in the coda to "A Symphony of Three Orchestras," Carter fiercely mocks minimalism (53), so clearly Carter's concept of "simpler" had its limits!
One of my favorite passages in Whittall's essay is his quote from an essay by Carter in which he says of Debussy that other than "Pelleas," "there never seems to be any kind of darkness in it." According to Whittall, Carter's reference to several Second Vienna School examples of compositions by Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern "implies that with these we get an 'emancipated discourse' whose darker tone of voice is the perfect complement to Debussian elegance and mystery" (63).
Whittall and Schmidt both shed light on Carter's harmonic structures. Discussing the choices facing a "post-tonal composer," Whittall points out that "[f]or Carter, the all-triad (or all-trichord) hexachord (ATH) -  - became one such constraining construct..." (58) "...Carter's use of such hexachords, as lines and as chords, is a mark of identity in his musical language, a source or resource which has come to signify for him the plenitude and freedom inherent in post-tonal composition" (60). Great stuff. (The number of the chord comes from Carter's "Harmony Book.")
Carter's view of music as freedom is spelled out further a little later. In 1984, agreeing with Adorno on the "regression of listening ability," Carter:
"diagnosed 'a loss of the wish to pay attention to music' as 'one of many types of of breakdown of communication we are faced with at a time when focused attention [is] needed more than ever in our democratic and highly complex society, where choices of citizens are so important for their own welfare.' At the same time he declared that 'music that is mechanically ordered like some minimalist or some popular music seems to me pointless as it does not give any sense of being alive'" (62).
Whittall's central argument is that Carter employs a post-tonal thematicism, using what Boulez refers to as "recognizable musical objects" (67). If so, they are not easily recognizable, and his case is not strong, but it is suggestive and fascinating, and well worth reading for anyone who enjoys Carter's music.
Carter himself said in 1959: "...my music has sought mainly two things -- to deal with vertical and horizontal dimensions in a more varied way than is usually done -- I try to find continuities that gain meaning, change, and operate on a level that is parallel to our present experience of living" (57).
Schmidt's essay on the string quartets illuminates the connections with Bartok and especially with Schoenberg and serialism. In a discussion of the First Quartet, drawing on Carter's sketches, Schmidt reveals Carter's tetrachords, one of them using "a system of permutations on a twelve-tone row which Carter divides into two, three, four, and six-tone segements, combining their original and retrograde forms and finally interlacing row segments, the way Schoenberg and Berg also did (183). After further discussion of tetrachords and hexachords, the author concludes that "...Carter's starting point for systematic thinking about pitch was apparently twelve-tone rows and related permutations... At the same time, while working on the First Quartet, he went beyond serial thought by trying out chord structures that seem to anticipate the thought process that led to the Harmony Book" (184). Carter compiled the book throughout the 1960s, and it was fully assembled by 1975 (43). By the time of the Third Quartet, "...Carter creates a consistent harmonic space that provides both a concrete architecture of pitch as well as an interconnected abstract system of intervals and chord classes" (186-7).
A composer interested in exploring Carter would no doubt be better served by the scores and the Harmony Book. But for those who are not composers or musicologists but avid Carter listeners, this book is of great value. No doubt others will find different essays that are useful and interesting.
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