I am so very touched, honored and humbled for having been permitted to contribute to this memoir. However, it would be a pity to be limited to any particular accent on Elliott Carter’s many, many lives, parts of which he allowed me to experience on our wonderful Sunday afternoons. Several decades of special memories….
“Come for tea” translated into “BRING THE TEA” and sandwiches (with emphasis on smoked salmon) and European pastries (“anything Black Foresty”), preferably homemade. And so the 8 th floor elevator door opened, and there was a beaming, rosy-cheeked, arms-akimbo, cane-flying-to-the-floor ELLIOTT. There is so much to remember, but what might be worth sharing is that comforting and simultaneously no nonsense aspect toward the content of those conversations.
Years ago there were equally open arms by Helen Carter, his beautiful, talented, devoted, but also independent and tough wife – theirs was an oasis in our skeptical world vis-à-vis Devotion or LOVE. Occasionally Helen stayed and listened, or said, “You kids talk!”
As to those talks, Elliott thought that verbalizing about his music was not anything that wouldn’t be better addressed or discussed by Carter experts. Talking about people close to him personally and professionally was warmer and more interesting. So many come to mind and should be saluted, but knowing some of them, I believe that they might perhaps prefer to stay anonymous in this little greeting.
When I occasionally shared self doubts toward criticisms by colleagues or students toward my perhaps “superficial” approach toward the other arts or literature, when music should be enough to be found “profound,” he honored it all by saying, “But I did the same thing, mainly with Lincoln Kirstein, first in Paris, and later on in New York, where he asked me to be Music Advisor to the New York City Ballet – and I LOVED it.”
Carter, always the Gentleman of the Old School (and where is the NEW ONE?), thereby graciously put himself into my world of music for dance and theater: such an honor! And then he reminded me that my music was always commissioned, thereby guaranteeing an audience to hear (SEE, à la Gertrud Stein) performances, and not having to hope in vain for that event to happen. Peculiarly, Cage pronounced something similar years ago by telling me that I didn’t respect my music enough. And so he took me to his publisher, and that’s another story for other memories.
Back to the Sundays:
We often discussed paradoxes and their effect on logical thought and work: Old music compared to New – their similarities and contrasts … Pedagogy, as compared to mainly self-taught originals … The values of being at home in other languages: he was fluent in German, French, Italian and could recite Goethe without “blinking.” And he was interested, if not particularly enchanted, by my closeness to Cage and Cunningham, but was consoled that – in spite of my great respect and love for them and their work – I never ever tried or wished to emulate their chance operations. Nor would they have wanted it. In comparison, he couldn’t hear enough about the Schoenberg family and wanted to learn about any available anecdotes.
There have been so many touching and beautifully written obituaries for Carter, and it would be unwise to try to add to them. Yet not all of them have described THIS ELLIOTT – this marvelous mixture of an uncompromising, towering, but always humanely original modest giant. All people are special. But then there will always be that never-again Elliott Carter.