I often picture certain expressions on Elliott’s face: the determined, clenched- jawed, bared-teeth face that he would use when describing a problem that he wanted to solve in composing or when he had a problem getting up out of a chair. He encouraged himself in the third person, I would hear him say, “Carter! Get up!” Then there was the wide, delighted-smile face that could be prompted by the mention of a book, a painting or a piece of music that he loved, or by seeing someone he was truly happy to see. I remember the expression-of-pure-sweetness face – it involved a tilt of the head and a gentle smile – used when talking about his wife Helen. I can still see his eyebrows-lifted, eager face when hearing news of his family (David, Carol and Alexander) and friends. And the furrowed-forehead, eyes-wide, mouth-open face that was a combination of concern, fear, and surprise that he showed if you told him any scandalous gossip.
What is remarkable is that none of these faces had anything mean-spirited or ill-tempered about them, but there was nothing like that in his personality anyway. Elliott cared about humanity, as demonstrated in his social and political actions, and he was devoted, generous, and loyal to those he loved. He would invite to dinner people he thought looked too thin and sent checks to musicians he thought weren’t getting paid enough (most of them). When a friend fell and got a few scrapes and bruises, Elliott called me and said, “At my age [in his late nineties] it isn’t so easy to get from the Village to the Upper West Side. Since you live nearby could you bring him some orange juice?”
Elliott was constantly engaged in intellectual and artistic thought and he shared his curiosity, with warmth and humor. His memory was staggering and he communicated his wide-ranging knowledge not as an accumulation of facts but as terribly interesting human concerns. Unfailingly, visits with him were an inspiration and a mood-lifter. If I showed up with any frustration or fatigue, I would leave elated and wide awake.
He faced the few infirmities of old age that he suffered with good nature. When he had to get a shock for an irregular heartbeat we looked at the heart monitor before the treatment. After it was over, the doctor showed it to us again. Elliott turned to me and said, “Look! Before I was beating like Stravinsky, and now I’m beating like Bach!”