At Carnegie Hall on today’s date in 2015, James Levine led the MET Chamber Ensemble in the first performance of a new work by the American composer Elliott Carter, who died in November of 2012, a month or so shy of what would have been his 104th birthday.
The 2015 Carnegie Hall debut of “The American Sublime” marked the last world premiere performance of Carter’s 75-year-long composer career.
Hearing Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” at Carnegie Hall in the 1920s inspired Carter to become a composer. A high school teacher introduced him to Charles Ives, who became a mentor. By the mid-1930s, Carter was writing music in the “populist modern” style, ala Copland, but during a year spent in the Arizona desert in 1950, Carter finished his First String Quartet—music uncompromising in both its technical difficulty and structural intricacy.
"That crazy long First String Quartet was played in Belgium," Carter recalled. "It was played over the radio, and I got a letter from a coal miner, in French, and he said, 'I liked your piece. It's just like digging for coal.' He meant that it was hard and took effort."
Carter’s music remains hard work for performers AND audiences, but increasingly both are taking up the challenge. This music is from a BBC Symphony recording of Carter’s Horn Concerto from 2006, a work completed when he was 98 years old.
Music Played in Today's Program
Elliott Carter (1908-2012)Horn Concerto (2006)Martin Owen, fh; BBC Symphony; Oliver Knussen, cond.Bridge 9314