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The Music of Elliott Carter Hardcover – November 12, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When David Schiff finished his overview of Elliott Carter's music in 1983, Carter was already 75 years old. No one could have predicted the flood of marvelous new pieces (including three large-scale concertos and two string quartets) the composer would produce in the intervening years. This second edition is current through April 1998 and arrives in time for the composer's 90th birthday. Schiff is the ideal guide for this repertoire: a composer himself who studied with Carter, he has also conducted the Triple Duo. His writing is stylish--in the String Quartet No. 4, he writes, the second movement "seems to begin over the first violin's repeated objections." Schiff is lucid without ever being superficial. Instead of the strictly chronological organization of the first edition, he now groups the music by genre. (This system is especially helpful in understanding the five string quartets.) Each chapter has a brief general introduction--the first few paragraphs of the vocal music chapter in particular are a model of practical musical thought. There is a technical glossary, an eight-page bibliography (which might have mentioned Andrew Porter's enthusiastic New Yorker reviews of the pieces), and an 18-page discography. Although there are a few dozen musical examples, readers will need scores to follow some of the discussion. Of necessity, Schiff describes some of the most recent music instead of analyzing it. Anyone who wishes to gain a foothold in Carter's endlessly rewarding world might listen to the excellent Chicago Symphony recording of Variations for Orchestra and follow Schiff's elegant commentary. --William R. Braun

From Library Journal

Schiff has thoroughly revised and updated his seminal 1983 study of contemporary American composer Elliott Carter. This new edition effectively replaces the earlier one and is particularly welcome for its inclusion of a wealth of compositions and bibliographic citations from 1981 to 1998. Its thematic organization and tightly conceived plan, eschewing descriptions of Carter's musical vocabulary in favor of a straightforward glossary, are an improvement in reader-friendliness. Detailed musical analyses of major works still form the core of the book, requiring at least some preparation on the part of the intended audience of "performers, listeners, composers, and critics." A narrative overview places Carter in the context of the literary, artistic, and musical developments of the century and shows how he drew inspiration from poets and other creative figures. A chronological list of works, an extensive bibliography, and a discography add immeasurably to this volume. Highly recommended for sophisticated music collections.?Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 2 edition (November 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801436125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801436123
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Schiff has done a lucid job here for the readers,he writes quite well, not slipping into piles of set theory or analytical jargoneze,that speaks to a diminishing elite. Many have labeled Carter an elite creator,but that's a matter of reference(well Carter did walk out on a performance in Chicago due to Leonard Slatkin's pre-concert remarks). Schiff remarkably covers all the great Carter works, the turbulent works of the Sixties and Seventies, the darkly brooding Piano Concerto(written in West Berlin) and the Concerto for Orchestra,a Sixties work of violence, a reflection on the Anti-War Times. The latter unaccompanied solos are all here as well, all works written,for the most part after the First Edition. Schiff frequently reflects upon what works in a piece, a purely function premise that explains much, and is food for thought to any youngster hoping to someday write just like Elliot Carter. I miss the photographs from the First Edition, those with Stravinsky and Boulez, and the Carter manuscript reproductions included there. Schiff seems quite lucid in speaking about all this complexity whether rhythmic,structural or pitchbound. I didn't know for instance that Carter has kept a harmony book, sort of a creative Oracle to refer to over ones life. The chapters divide things again quite clearly, The Chamber Music, The Vocal Music, The Piano Music and Orchestral, with a nice Appendix of Carter's Listing of Three to Six Note Chords, also a Chronological Catalogue of Works, a select Bibliography and Discography, a List of Charts. A shame however is, although the winner of numerous Pulitzers, Carter until quite recent times has been neglected here in this country fighting in his home territory, the Eastern Musical Establishment and the Bernstein Clique of the Sixties and Seventies.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Schiff, who studied composition with Elliott Carter, produced a study of his mentor's music in 1983. Carter's longevity and immense productivity occasioned a second edition in 1998. In the years since, Carter has produced dozens of more pieces, but for the time being those wanting a serious introduction to Carter's mighty oeuvre will have to be content with this 1998 edition.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Written by a composer who also apparently has a doctorate level degree in English literature, this book shows the importance of the Modernist movement (including Literature and Film) in understanding Carter's work. Totally interesting. It also emphasizes his relationships to other musicians, performers, conductors, and composers in a way that a work of pure music theory, for example, would not.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great analysis of Carter's music with some bio as it influenced his music.
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Format: Hardcover
Schiff glorifies Carter throughout, but his analyses range from probing and interesting to wholly inaccurate. He touts Carter's integrity and organic development at every possible turn, but there are many issues with the text. Buyer beware - Schiff, a former student of Carter's, is often touted as "the" Carter expert, and this text even includes a (cursory) foreword by Carter himself.

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.
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