It’s been more than fifty years since I first encountered Elliott’s first string quartet. I still remember the vivid impression it made. To my then-young ears it seemed to open a previously untried way of conceiving musical time, its multidimensional flow and its accretion into formal architectures. Of course I have been happy and impressed to hear his many works since then (and the earlier ones too, and I have often performed or conducted his music), but the virginal experiences are the ones that stay with you longest.
I think that the keenest compliment one composer can pay another is to acknowledge influence. My own debt to Carter is not to his harmony (my own interests always lying elsewhere) but in what one might call his generalization of counterpoint. If counterpoint may be called the co-ordination of simultaneous happenings among notes, the Carterian generalization might be called co-ordination of simultaneous happenings among gestures. In this he excels and whether or not one wants to anthropomorphize his works into “scenarios” or “conversations” the result is always electrifying.
In many ways, Elliott led a charmed life. He was fortunate to be born into a world that valued high culture, and to have had the means and capacity to exploit it. That he lived such a long life and survived into the present age of vulgarity in no way diminishes his achievements and the prestige they brought him. He stands, on the contrary, as a judgment on the present time, composing continually until the very end of his life, always thinking of, in, and about music. Truly an inspiration. 20.xii.2012