As we mourn Elliott Carter’s passing, we should also rejoice in realizing that he has been the longest living composer in history. Moreover, we should be thankful for his good fortune to be able to devote his whole life to composing for almost a century, at a time when music of the whole world was undergoing a historic period of transformation! We should also be thankful to him for being a lifelong example for all composers.
Elliott did not compose for vanity, fame, power or wealth. He composed for his own passion for music – music that is firmly built on the European heritage but nonetheless imbued with the American spirit for the new and free.
Thus, it is not surprising that Elliott literally knew every American and European composer of our time, and he always spoke politely and understandingly of them, particularly with respect to their convictions. On the other hand, on more professional occasions, it was not infrequent that Elliott would speak out or raise doubts about musical comments expressed at the time. There was no doubt he had carefully investigated the issues at hand, and was ready to debate or find answers to his own questions.
Both Elliott and Helen, his wife, were extremely cordial to me and Yi-an. Since the 1970s, we would get together now and then for tea and to chat as we lived near each other in the Village. After Helen passed away, we so missed seeing her. Nonetheless, Elliott and I would call each other once in awhile to see if he would like us to visit him. Such visits tended to be reminiscences of the past and would last a couple of hours. He enjoyed conversations with someone who could understand what he had in mind or what he happened to be thinking of at the time. I still remember during the last few visits, how we would regale each other with anecdotes and events like two old men remembering their childhood. Now that he’s gone, I value his comradeship all the more, and above all his contribution to music. To me, Elliott Carter, together with Charles Ives, represents the true spirit of American music.