Elliot Carter Biography

Essay by candyluver16High School, 12th gradeA+, December 2009

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Elliot Carter was born in New York City on December 11th, 1908. He really began to find interest in music once he started high school and was encouraged by a young musician named Charles Ives. His father was a business man and his mother was the former Florence Chambers. Charles Ives also sold insurance to his family for encouragement and such. He studied Music and English at Harvard University with professors Walter Piston and Gustav Holst. He became an English major while studying at the Longy School of Music. He then studied for a few years in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Carter also worked with Mlle Boulanger from 1932-1935 and in 1935 he received his doctorate in music from the Ecole Normale in Paris. Later on in that same year, he went back to America to direct the Ballet Caravan. From 1940-1944, he then taught courses in physics, mathematics, and classical Greek, as well as music, at St.

Johns College in Annapolis. Maryland. A little earlier, Carter met the love of his life Helen Frost-Jones and got married on July 6th, 1939. They had one child, a son, David Chambers Carter. During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information and held teaching posts at numerous Universities. He and his family have lived in Greenwich Village ever since 1945.

Carter created a myriad of different works throughout his years. His earlier works were influenced by Stravinsky, Harris, Copland, and Hindermith and are mostly neoclassical in aesthetic. He went through strict training with Stravinsky in modern polyphony, which shows in his earliest works such as Pocahontas (1938-1939). Also, Carter decided to stray away from neoclassicism around the same time Stravinsky did, claiming that it took away “vital areas of feeling”. Other earlier works of his orchestral composition included The Minotaur, the Harmony of Morning, Holiday Overture, and the First Symphony (J.Oteri). He also seemed to have had a thing for Jazz and portrayed it in a lot of his works as well. In his late 30’s, he began experimenting with creating harmonics using the chromatic scale and these techniques would soon become part of Carter’s original, yet mature style of chamber music. He somehow managed to make “orchestral music that is chamber-like music in its meticulous detail while retaining the broad gestures of a symphonic palette” (J.Oteri).

The music of Carter’s middle period is difficult, yet very original with his unique technique. He was very able to make audiences’ jaws drop with his modern day styles at the time. Much of his works including Double Concerto for Piano, the Concerto for Orchestras, and A Symphony for Three Orchestras all seemed to contain a lot of feeling and emotions, making the audience feel like so much is happening at one time. A lot of Carter’s music in this period was humanistic, meaning that “each musician is an individual, and each instrument is an individual voice.”(Cole).

Carter’s late period works of are said to be his best because he expanded his variety of music. He not only worked on chambers, symphonies and orchestras, but moved on to string quartets and even vocal music. He began a third stylistic phase and concentrated on the simpler, leaner tone to his works. Now, there is a whole new clarity to his works that have been very much refined over the decades. Carter has even written his very first opera after his 90th birthday called What’s Next? He has also created concertos for the violin, cello, oboe, and clarinet. A couple of his most famous works besides Pocahontas are his Asko Concerto and Boston Concerto. These are the only two works that included every member of the orchestra in oppositional relationships. Aaron Copland even nominated Carter for the gold medal of the National Institute of Letters for Eminence in Music, 1971. Although Carter expanded his love for music through different works, he still couldn’t help himself to put together a traditional orchestral masterpiece. In 1998, he composed the 50-minute Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei ["I am the prize of flowing hope"] (Boosey, Hawkes). Elliot Carter has received numerous awards for his incredible masterpieces throughout his entire life and even though he just celebrated his 100th birthday, he still contributes every bit of himself towards his beloved music.

1.J.Oteri, Frank. "Elliot Carter's Century." www.carter100.com. 9 Jan 2009 .

2.Boosey, Hawkes, "Elliot Carter." Biography 01 Jan 2007 9 Jan 2009 .

3 Cole, Tom. "Elliot Carter's Century of Music." www.npr.org. npr. 9 Jan 2009