Celebration of an Artist Who Changed the World

The first time I was aware of the name of Elliott Carter was in the early 1960s when I went to hear a performance of his Second String Quartet. This is the work in which the four instruments are contrasted like different characters in a play. As the piece built up toward the end with a graded series of accelerandi resulting in a furious climax, I was hanging on to the edge of my chair. I had no idea music could be like this. It changed my life!

I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege of working with Mr. Carter on numerous occasions both as an individual and as a member of the Juilliard String Quartet. When he was reacting to his own music, he would work persistently with the performer until the balance, tone quality and character of what he heard coincided exactly with the idea that had inspired him. He was incredibly generous to those of us who took the time and trouble to develop the techniques necessary to perform his compositions. One of the most moving moments of my life took place when Virgil Blackwell delivered a package to me with the words, “Elliott wanted you to have this.” I opened it and found Figment IV for solo viola, which he had written for me. I, of course, perform this work with love every chance I get.

In 1991 as part of the 45th anniversary celebration of the Juilliard String Quartet, we decided to record the then four complete Carter quartets. He was present at every rehearsal and every recording session helping and directing us. As he observed us struggling with the one of the many formidable difficulties of rhythm and ensemble, he burst out with the exclamation, “Why does it have to be so difficult?!”

But Elliott, we both well know the answer to that question: it has to be so difficult because, like Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Verdi and Stravinsky, you followed your artistic vision to the end of the road and in doing so expanded what the art of music can do forever. Those of us who dedicate ourselves to the task of developing the necessary skills to follow in your footsteps will be incredibly rewarded with a new perspective of what music can achieve.