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The Music of Elliott Carter Hardcover – November 12, 1998
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Schiff goes through every piece that Carter had written to date, but instead of a strictly chronological presentation, the author divides the oeuvre into eleven sections: 1) String Quartets, 2) Chamber Music for Wind Instruments, 3) Chamber Music for Piano and other Mixed Ensembles, 4) Short Instrumental Works, 5) Choral Works, 6) Songs with Piano (or Guitar), 7) Works for Solo Voices and Instruments, 8) Piano Music, 9) Ballets, 10) Concertos and 11) Symphonic Works.
Schiff's analysis of the mature works focuses mainly on two aspects of this music. One is Carter's derivation of pitches from certain chords, and an appendix contains Carter's own listing of all these chords. The other aspect is Carter's polyrhythms and "metric modulation". It is the latter that is really distinguishes Carter's music, with its dizzying interaction between parts that accompany each other but rarely meet. Besides the analysis, there's plenty of interesting facts about the contexts in which the works were written. The "Symphonia" turns out to have provoked a nasty spat between the composer and the New York Philharmonic, for example. Also, Schiff talks about Carter's taste in literature and his ideas of what poems are suitable for setting to music.
While Schiff's book demands a good knowledge of music, I must say that I don't think that Elliott Carter's music requires a knowledge of the theory behind it.Read more ›
To give but one example of poor analysis, see Schiff's description of the beginning of the Cello Sonata, a pivotal work in Carter's career. Schiff describes the opening sonority of the work as the set /012578/, the all-trichord hexachord and a signature Carter sound, but the actual pitch content of the opening gesture is A-A#-B-D#-E#-F#, which is /012568/. To the casual reader, this might not make much of a difference, but inaccuracies like this really do matter to the theorist, especially when dealing with a composer who manipulates specific sets for specific reasons. This is only one instance of incorrect identification, but there are many, not just of pitch sets but also rhythmic ratios, another extremely important aspect of Carter analysis. I have the Second Edition, so maybe some of these issues have been corrected.
Readers interested in this music would be better served by "Elliott Carter Studies" edited by Marguerite Boland and John Link (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521113628). It is well curated and contains probing and *accurate* articles that include excellent essays by true Carter experts like Jonathan W. Bernard and Brenda Ravenscroft. Schiff's absence from this volume is conspicuous.