Elliott Carter atones for his atonality...

Sun Apr 01, 2007 6:53 pm From the Disassociated Press NEW YORK --- American composer Elliott Carter,  an exemplar of the atonalist style of modernism  and according to admirers the greatest living practitioner  of his craft, apologized to music lovers  around the world today for what he  called "a half century of wasted time."

"What was I thinking?" the venerable Mr.  Carter, 99, said at his home in Manhattan. "Nobody likes this stuff. Why  have I wasted my life?" Carter said he "went wrong" back in the 1940s and  spent the next 60 years pursuing the musical dead-end of atonality. In the past seven decades, he has  produced five string quartets...

, a half  dozen song cycles, works for orchestra,  solo concertos and innumerable chamber works for  various combinations of instruments --- all in an advanced, complex style he  now dismisses as "noise."

Despite consistent encouragement  of many mainstream musicians such as  Boston Symphony Music Director James Levine, for  Chicago Symphony conductor Daniel Barenboim, and the cellist  Yo-Yo Ma, Carter said his many admirers  were "delusional."

"The critics who  said they were just congratulating  themselves for being smarter than everybody else were  right all along," he said. "We should all go back and get our  heads on straight." Carter said he blamed  his late wife, Helen, for turning him into an  unrepentant modernist. "She liked this stuff, and I could never say no to her,"  he said. Mrs. Carter died in 2003 at age 95.

Since then, Carter said, he  has been reevaluating his aesthetic. "I'd like to write something  pretty for a change --- maybe something based on an Irish folk tune," he said. He  was uncertain whether he would withdraw his substantial catalogue from the repertoire, though one alternative would be to revise his works, ending  each with a tonic triad, he said.

"I feel like an enormous weight has been  lifted from my shoulders," Carter said. "From now on, I promise to be  good."

(Thanks, David Canfield.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


Too bad the date line is April 1.

I'm currently grazing through Netflix's inventory of Leonard Berstein's Young People's Concerts. Last night, the topic was "Jazz in the Concert Hall," and Bernstein gave a good overview of jazz elements blending (rarely with success, as he was candid to acknowledge) with serious symphonic compositions. This program even included a performance of an Aaron Copeland concerto, with Copeland himself at the piano.

At the end of the program, Bernstein offered -- as an example of a great modern contemporary composer who was melding symphonic music and jazz -- a new work by Larry Austin entitled "Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists." It was (and is) the kind of thing only music theorists could appreciate, and I suspect even that would be a pretty stringent experience.

If only it were true. But, seriously, atonal music has its place, mostly in the movies whenever someone is poisoned and the walls start spinning. In that context, it's perfect.

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