Composers Datebook®

Elliott Carter's 'Two Controversies and a Conversation'

Composers Datebook - June 8, 2024


American composer Elliott Carter lived to be 103, completing more than 40 works between ages 90 and 100, and 20 more after he turned 100 in 2008.

On today’s date in 2012, a new chamber work by Carter with an odd title was premiered at a concert in the New York Philharmonic’s CONTACT! Series. Two Controversies and a Conversation showcased the percussive aspects of the piano, highlighting that instrument alongside a solo percussionist. The premiere was an international triple-commission from the New York Philharmonic, the Aldeburgh Festival in England and Radio France. 

An earlier version of part of the work, titled simply Conversations, had been premiered in the U.K. the previous year. The composer explained the title as follows:

“How does one converse?” Carter asked. “One person says something and tries to get the other person to respond, or carry on, or contradict a statement. Those conversing are also playing a kind of game with each other. I tried to put all that into my music … after the [Aldeburgh] premiere of Conversations, [British composer] Oliver Knussen suggested I expand this piece. I decided to add two more movements, which became the two Controversies."

Music Played in Today's Program

Elliott Carter (1908-2012): Conversation, from Two Controversies and a Conversation; Eric Huebner, piano; Colin Currie, percussion; New York Philharmonic; David Robertson, conductor; NYP 20120112

On This Day


  • 1671 - Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni, in Venice

  • 1810 - German composer Robert Schumann, in Zwickau

  • 1894 - Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff, in Prague. He died in a Nazi concentration camp in Wülzburg, Bavarian, in 1942.


  • 1612 - German composer Hans Leo Hassler, 47, in Frankfurt

  • 1884 - American composer Henry Clay Work, 51, in Hartford, Connecticut. A printer by trade, he wrote some famous popular songs, including Grandfather's Clock, Father, Come Home, and Marching Through Georgia

  • 1908 - Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 64, in Lyubensk, near Luga (now Pskov district) (Gregorian date: June 21)

  • 1940 - American composer Frederick Shepherd Converse, 69, in Westwood, Massachusetts

  • 1984 - English composer Gordon Jacob, 88, in Saffron Walden

  • 1998 - German-born American composer Margaret Buechner, 76, in Midland, Michigan


  • 1912 - Ravel: ballet, Daphnis et Chloé, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, by Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting

  • 1929 - Hindemith: Neus vom Tage (News of the Day), in Berlin at the Krolloper

  • 1937 - Carl Orff: scenic canata Carmina Burana, in Frankfurt at the Opernhaus

  • 1941 - Harold Shapero: Nine Minute Overture, in New York City

  • 1950 - Hindemith: Horn Concerto, in Baden-Baden, Germany, with the composer conducting and Dennis Brain the soloist

  • 1953 - Britten: opera Glorianna, in London at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden

  • 1968 - Harrison Birtwistle: opera Punch and Judy at the Jubilee Hall in Aldeburgh, by the English Opera Group, David Atherton conducting

  • 1974 - Henry Brant: An American Requiem, in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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