The Music Man

At the age of 100, Elliott Carter hears a symphony.

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WWD Scoop issue 11/24/2008
In 1932, he left to study in Paris, after completing his studies at Harvard, where he received a degree in English, and a master’s degree in music. Carter honed his technique in Paris, studying with Nadia Boulanger for three years. He was never a devotee of the classical masters, however. “I thought Beethoven and Brahms were boring, and it was only after I studied with Nadia, who had me listen to the whole repertoire of music, that I realized I had different tastes,” says Carter, sitting on the sofa in his Union Square apartment in New York, the only surface not covered in sheet music.

And even though he’s met such music giants as Stravinsky, Ives and Aaron Copland, and in a moment he terms a highlight, actually sat next to George Gershwin during a performance, Mozart is a personal favorite. “Mozart developed the idea of dramatic change in musical composition—a way that music had never been experienced before. I like things that change suddenly, and go off in a new direction. I like something that seems out of the frame, yet still fits into the frame,” he says, describing variations on a theme.

Carter didn’t receive recognition as a composer until midway through his career. He never imagined during the years he struggled that he would one day meet his inspiration— Stravinsky. “He was always a very enthusiastic, lively man, and liked my music a lot, which was very flattering.

“I can say it’s only in my maturity that I began being recognized. I was in my 40s already,” adds Carter.

As his reputation spread, Carter turned to literature, poetry and even films for inspiration, and was heavily influenced by the works of Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein. “I found it very interesting the way he cut his films—the way he featured different shots from the same scenes, but from different angles of the camera,” says Carter.

Reflecting on his present success, he laughs. “I don’t know whether I’ve made it even now,” he says. “What I am certain about is that I’m going to be 100 this year. I cannot but help feel that I’m getting a lot of performances because of my age.” He smiles. “If I had these kind of performances at a time when I was not strikingly old—I would have felt I had made it.”

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