Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy 103rd birthday, Elliott Carter

Amazing but true: the great American composer Elliott Carter is still with us and today turns 103. He is still active: not only is he out and about, but he is still composing. Last Thursday he attended the premiere of five of his recent works, all but one written in the last 10 years. As Anthony Tommasini comments in the New York Times:
Never in the history of music has a major composer still been producing significant pieces at such an age. Verdi was pushing 80 when he finished his final masterpiece, “Falstaff.” Stravinsky completed his last major piece, “Requiem Canticles,” at 84.
Here is Damien Thompson in the Daily Telegraph reviewing the world premiere of Carter’s Conversations for piano, percussion and chamber orchestra this June:
No doubt about it: at the age of 102, Carter – interviewed in the video above – is really getting into his stride.
The video is part of a four-part interview made in 2008 when the composer turned 100. It’s great – he talks about how when he and his wife moved into their apartment e.e. cummings lived around the corner and Marianne Moore was just down the street. Here is part of his Symphony of Three Orchestras from 1976:

It has been a good week for elderly composers: Henri Dutilleux, 96 next month, has won the Kravis Prize, which comes with $US200,000 and a commission to compose a piece for the New York Philharmonic. He isn’t going to write one but instead will share the money with three other composers, whom the orchestra will choose with his advice and who will each write a work in his honour. It’s a shame we won’t get a new Dutilleux but the first composer selected is Peter Eötvös, who is a good thing. In 1993 he wrote a piece for solo percussion titled Psalm 151, in memoriam Frank Zappa. If you don’t believe me, you can listen to a snippet of it here.

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