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More wisdom from Elliott Carter (see posting below for more). This is from an article in the Wall Street Journal and came to me by way of friend and artist George Wingate (thanks George):

If the public doesn’t respond, it matters very little. Think of other complex works that had difficulty finding an audience, he explains, like those of James Joyce. “‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is hard for anybody, I think,” he states. “But if you make an effort you can find places in it that are quite wonderful.” Another factor that shaped his decisions is that the monetary rewards of art music are negligible, whether one finds an audience or not.

‘It’s important to remember that this profession, unlike painting, doesn’t pay very much (although I do get some commissions these days),” he says. “As a result, you’re not encouraged to write for an audience — there’s no financial benefit. So you have to stick to what you believe in. Of course, I’ve written with the idea that there would be people who would want to play my music. Many are friends of mine — Charles Rosen, Ursula Oppens, Daniel Barenboim — musicians who are willing to spend the money to have extra rehearsals because of the level of difficulty.”

Still, I ask, doesn’t a composer have some responsibility, as Mozart seemed to believe, to reach an audience? Consider the case of the late Jacob Druckman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his orchestral composition, “Windows.” He ultimately reached the conclusion that the work had been a failure because there was so much going on in it at one time that listeners couldn’t possibly hear it all.

“There are parts in my pieces where you can’t tell what’s going on,” he says with a glint in his eye. “You also can’t tell what’s going on when a painter makes a big splash on a canvas. It’s just a sound.” One is reminded of a response given by the maverick early-20th-century composer Charles Ives — a mentor to the young Elliott Carter — when someone complained about the cacophony in his work: “What does sound have to do with music?” he asked.

Stuart Isacoff
Wall Street Journal

Photo by Angela Rowlings

From an interview with Elliott Carter (who turned 100 this year):

Have you gone through periods of different styles?

Elliott Carter: The way I think about it is that I’ve always considered my works as adventures. They were always adventures in something I didn’t know anything about, like finding a new territory. If I was asked to write something that I didn’t feel was an adventure I didn’t do it. I always wanted to take a step that was different than the one I did before. Each piece has its own particular character, its own formation, presentation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that. People have been saying that my music has become more transparent, and I suppose it has, since at one time it was much more complex. I feel like that I’ve done that enough, and it’s no longer a primary interest.

Keith Powers
Boston Herald

The concept of always moving into new territory. The concept of transparency. These are ideas that cross over all creative making, be it music, writing, visual art. And to find Carter still that open, pliant and willing to enter into “beginner’s mind” after living for a century is sobering, and so, so admirable.