Elliott Carter


We take a quick break in the realm of film composers to address a work by American composer Elliott Carter. The piece in question is Brass Quintet, a wildly difficult work composed in 1974.

      1. This piece brings up several emotions. As mentioned in class, one for me is a tinge of boredom. For a single movement work, twelve minutes is lenghthy, and the relative lack of approachable or easily tangible musical elements draws out that lenghth even more. At a point, I say to myself “I get it, let’s move on.”

      2. Carter created this effect by, as mentioned above, crafting a single movement work that, upon initial listening, has no cadence points.

      3. I think the hardest measure to perform would be a measure that contains implicit interplay between two or more parts, such as in measure 43 or 281. However, the issue of difficulty makes me wonder if this piece is meant to be performed in a Babbitt-ian sense or a Strauss-ian sense. That is, does every black mark on the page need to be exactly precise, or is it more the effect that is important, with the notation just showing one example of how it might look?

      4. I think it is valuable in a course such as this to explore all types of brass ensemble music. Although this piece does not fall in line with my personal compositional aesthetics, others may feel differently and be moved accordingly. However, the infrequency at which this piece is performed does raise questions to its relevancy.

      5. Carter studied with Nadia Boulanger and Charles Ives, which explains the avant garde style with shreds of tonality. Perhaps more enlightening are the influences of thinkers like Einstein and James Joyce, lending to his music the element of complexity. Davison’s quintet is much more traditional in the sense of formal and harmonic structure.

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