Happy 102nd Birthday to Elliott Carter

This evening we at CatSynth wish a slightly-belated 102nd birthday to Elliott Carter. His birthday was this past Saturday, December 11. An inspiring figure, not only has he lived to an impressive age, but continues to be a prolific composer. Indeed, as reported on Sequenza21, he attended a concert in Toronto entirely of works he has composed since turning 100. They also mention that earlier last week he attended a concert in honor of that young upstart Pierre Boulez, who turned 85 this year.

It was also interesting to see him placed in the context of the last century, from a personal connection with Charles Ives, one of the first “truly modern” American composers stretching to the current era. His work, like Ives and those that followed in that tradition, is very often very complex and often very precise in detail (and challenging to perform). Of interest to those like me who are also into mathematics alongside music, many of his formal methods with pitches and harmonies used more complex combinatorial structures than earlier serial composers, including collections of all possible pitches of a particular length – an approach that would later be categories as “musical set theory.” Many of these ideas have been collected in the Harmony Book which was published in 2002 (when Carter would have been 93).