I spent an hour once with Elliot Carter, one of the emptiest of my early career.
We talked about Schoenberg and Ives, I remember. He seemed so Boston-bland, so untouched by life’s struggles, so anaemic and passionless, that I barely managed to write up the interview and have never found a key that made his music meaningful for me.
My pal Tim Page betrays a similar ambivalence in his NYRB review of a new book on the composer.
There is a fond belief that we glean otherworldly revelations from the late works of composers. We meditate upon the hymnlike final scores from the dying Beethoven and Schubert, are heartened by the brisk comic affirmations of Falstaff, Verdi’s farewell to opera, and marvel at the serene, luxuriant leave-taking in the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss.
In the case of Elliott Carter, however, mystical expectations are best set aside, even though he wrote more and later “late” music than anyone. He composed steadily in his own distinctive manner from his teen years until that day in November 2012 when, at the age of 103, he simply stopped…
Read on here.