A few minutes in Elliott Carter’s company were confirmation that he registered existence as Travel. Each goal was another embarkation point. This is also the experience of hearing his music. He was the most cultured of composers, proof of Dallapiccola’s belief that “what the composer has read and learned, we hear.”
It was in that knowledge that I wrote him in the mid seventies, sending a score, Diotima, based on a Hoelderlin poem, with recordings of some Bach cantatas I had been conducting, asking worried young composer questions about harmony and continuity. His reply, elegant and tactful, was entirely about what he had learned from Bach cantatas while studying with Boulanger.
We admire his courage in gradually shedding his first assumptions, re-making the limitations of his early work into strengths. We are impressed at his resourcefulness (revealed in his Harmony Book) in discovering a fluent way to find his pitches, a key to his verdant years.
We honor most his sense of the contemporary, a quality he once praised in Copland, his determination to make it new, whether in the big hard-won pieces of his middle years, or in the loose, experimental epigrams of this century. In each of his recent visits to Tanglewood, he was, in his keen enthusiasm, the brightest young spirit of the summer.