Elliott Carter: Innovative composer hailed as one of the greatest of the 20th century – Obituaries – News – The Independent
Elliott Carter, who has died in New York at almost 104, could justly be described as the last of classical music‘s modern masters. Certainly he was the last whose musical ideals were formed by the radical modernism of the first three decades of the 20th century, and contact with some of its most innovatory figures. The earliest of these was that awesome American original Charles Ives, to whom Carter was introduced while still at school and who encouraged his early efforts. Another, encountered on Carter’s youthful forays into the Bohemian world of Greenwich Village was the dynamic futurist Edgard Varèse. Meanwhile, he caught up with recent works of Scriabin, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Berg, in what was an exceptionally adventurous phase of New York’s cultural life in the 1920s.
These interests were not encouraged by his parents, who expected him to succeed to the family lace-importing business. When he revealed his ambition to become a serious professional composer, his father withdrew all but minimal support and refused ever to attend performances of his music. Possibly Carter’s youthful enthusiasm for the most aggressively modernist trends reflected his necessary rebellion. Yet, by his own testimony, he had at first little idea how to compose such music himself. Nor did he discover how from the conservative music department at Harvard, where he switched instead to English Literature – though he did profit from the chance to study briefly with Gustav Holst, who appeared as visiting professor in 1932.