Andrew Ford, photo  Jim Rolon 2005
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Composer to composer: conversations about contemporary music

Gentility and apocalypse: Elliott Carter

'I do think people are worried about the modern world,' said Elliott Carter. 'I think there's a very strong fear of the present and of the future, and I must say I even sometimes have it myself. There's one view of the future that we're heading for disaster, but that started back before Chaucer. In fact I think it's in the Bible. From Elliott and Helen Carter's Greenwich Village apartment there is a fine view of the World Trade Center. The angle is such that a mere crack of sky separates the Center's twin towers. 'On a windy day,' Mrs Carter informed me, 'that crack closes.' Such an apocalyptic image, such a confrontation between nature and the 20 th century, seems an entirely appropriate thing for Elliott Carter to witness from his window. Carter's music is concerned with living in the modern world (and where better to be than the heart of New York City to keep in touch with that?). But it is also frequently about nature—particularly the elements, and especially wind. His Concerto for Orchestra (1969), based upon St John Perse's poem 'Winds', and A Symphony of Three Orchestras (1976), inspired by Hart Crane's 'The Bridge', both leave the listener feeling weather-beaten. I discovered recently that a flute piece which was on Carter's work desk when I visited him has since been given the title Scrivo in vento (I write on the wind).

© Andrew Ford
(Allen & Unwin 1993; Hale & Iremonger 1997)


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