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Elliott Carter

Biography

(b. New York, 11 Dec 1908).
American composer. He studied at Harvard (1926-32), at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris (1932-5) and privately with Boulanger. Back in the USA he worked as musical director of Ballet Caravan (until 1940) and as a teacher. From boyhood he had been acquainted with the music of Schoenberg, Var?se, Ives and others, but for the moment his works leaned much more towards Stravinsky and Hindemith: they included the ballets Pocahontas (1939) and The Minotaur (1947), the Symphony no.1 (1942) and Holiday Overture (1944). However, in his Piano Sonata (1946) he began to work from the interval content of particular chords, and inevitably to loosen the hold of tonality. The development was taken further in the Cello Sonata (1948), already characteristic of his later style in that the instruments have distinct roles.
A period of withdrawal led to the First Quartet (1951), a work of complex rhythmic interplay, long-ranging atonal melody and unusual form, the "movements" being out of step with the given breaks in the musical continuity: effectively it is a single unfolding of 40 minutes' duration. It was followed by exclusively instrumental works of similar complexity, activity and energy, including the Variations for orchestra (1955), the Second Quartet (1959), the Double Concerto for harpsichord and piano, each with its own chamber orchestra (1961), the Piano Concerto (1965), the Concerto for Orchestra (1969), the Third Quartet (1971) and the Brass Quintet (1974). At that point Carter returned to vocal composition for a triptych of works for soloist and ensemble: A Mirror on which to Dwell (1975), Syringa (1978) and In Sleep, in Thunder (1981), with words by Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery and Robert Lowell respectively. But he has also continued the output of large instrumental movements with A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976), the piano solo Night Fantasies (1980), the Triple Duo (1983) and Penthode for small orchestra (1985). His String Quartet no.4 (1986) is in a simpler style.
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