Internationally-acclaimed avant-garde composer Elliott Carter died on November 5 at the age of 103. Carter has been interred at Green-Wood.
Allan Kozinn, writing Carter’s obituary in The New York Times, described him as “one of the most important and enduring voices in contemporary music . . . .” And, as Anthony Tommasini, in his appraisal of Carter’s career, wrote in The New York Times, “[I]t is impossible to overstate the significance of his astonishing longevity. Here was a towering contemporary composer enjoying a renewed burst of creativity that started in his 90s and kept him going almost to the end.”
In an interview years ago, Carter described his career: “As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public. I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself. Since then, people have gotten interested.”
Carter was so in demand as a composer that he could set his own terms: no deadlines and no commissions for orchestras that had not played his pieces already. His popularity only increased over time; in 2008, every piece performed at Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music had been written by Carter.
During his long career, Carter taught at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Queens, Columbia, the Juilliard School, and the Peabody Conservatory. He won two Pulitzer Prizes and a Grammy for his work. In September, France gave him its highest award, Commander of the Legion of Honor.
He continued to create almost until the end: his last piece was completed in August.
Just one final note: In 1969, Leonard Bernstein, who also is interred at Green-Wood, conducted the New York Philharmonic in the world premiere of Carter’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” Who knew, back then, that Carter’s career had only just begun?