Wednesday, August 29, 2007
It's Always Copland
and Gershwin, as though George Antheil, Quincy Porter, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, and Randall Thompson are footnotes to the inevitable progression of 20th century American music. If it weren't for the occasional broadcast of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings we might be confused into believing Copland and Gershwin to be the only composers America produced before 1938.
I bring this up because it is only three months from the centennial of Elliott Carter, whose music would largely have remained unknown except that he's lived so long. And the music to which we're getting exposed, only his most recent, isn't wonderful: The older Carter gets the more unlistenably atonal his pieces become. So first-time listeners will come away from concerts (what few there are) with the idea that Carter sounds something a lot like Babbitt, which for much of his output, simply isn't true.
In point of fact, much of Elliott Carter's music sounds quite American. Take for instance his song The Rose Family or 3 Poems by Robert Frost. Not to mention the depth of the music: his Piano Sonata from 1946 has got a lot more going on than Retrouvailles from fifty years later, and the latter could easily pass for a piece by Anton Webern.
To put it succinctly: For the sake of posterity, and his reputation as a distinctly American composer, it's more fair to perform Carter's earlier works, which sound American, rather than his more recent works, which don't sound like particularly anything. How exciting would it be for instance, if the Boston Ballet decided on a performance of Carter's The Minotaur, or if excerpts were performed by the New York Philharmonic?