On today’s date in 2003, a new orchestral work by the American composer Elliott Carter had its premiere in Boston. Carter was then 94 years old—he would live to be a month shy of 104, and, even more remarkable, he was composing new works almost to the end of his days.
Now, when you live that long, you experience a lot of changes. Carter had studied English and Greek at Harvard, and recalled a time when at Boston Symphony concerts conservative members of the audience would joke that the emergency exits signs should read “Exit – in case of Brahms.” Apparently, even in the 1920s, for some Boston Brahmins, Brahms was still “difficult music.”
For his part, Carter felt the complexity of his own music reflected the complex world into which he was born—the world of Proust, Picasso, and Stravinsky. His music was technically very, very difficult, but Carter always insisted it was all in service of the greater freedom and fantasy of his imagination, not difficult for difficulty’s sake.
Carter’s “Boston Concerto” was dedicated to the memory of his wife, Helen, who died shortly before its premiere. Carter prefaced his score with the opening lines from a poem entitled “Rain” by William Carlos Williams:
“As the rain falls
Object of the world—“
Music Played in Today's Program
Elliott Carter (1908 - 2012)Boston ConcertoBBC Symphony; Oliver Knussen, cond.Bridge 9184