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FastNotes

  • According to the composer, the Sonata was written during a time (1952) when “I was preoccupied with the tie-memory patterns of music…” and with a freer, more vital and sensitive musical language. The harpsichord functions as the center of the music due to its “wonderful array of tone-colors.”
  • Here is Carter’s description of the Sonata: “The music starts, Risoluto, with a splashing dramatic gesture whose subsiding ripples for the rest of the movement.
  • “The Lento is an expressive dialogue between the harpsichord and the others with an undercurrent of fast music that bursts out briefly near the end.
  • “The Allegro, with its gondolier’s dance fading into other dance movements, is cross-cut like a movie – at times it superimposes one dance on another.” 

When American composer Elliott Carter died on November 5, 2012, just one month and six days prior to his 104th birthday and three months after the completion of his final work, a career that spanned eight decades came to a quiet close. In many ways Carter had a charmed life in music. Beginning with his spiritual/aesthetic apprenticeship with Charles Ives when he was a teenager, to his rigorous compositional training under the famed French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, to his universal stature as one of the most distinguished composers after World War II until his death in 2012, Carter was a witness to and participant in every major trend of 20th-century music with the exception of Minimalism. From the 1950s to 2012 Carter embodied and reflected nearly every trend of the international avant-garde.

However, Carter’s road to compositional maturity was long and arduous. Unlike Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and others who studied with Boulanger, he did not emerge from her tutelage a fully-formed composer with a recognizable style. For until he found his “composer’s voice,” Carter oscillated between the two poles of American ultramodernism (as found in the works of such composers as Charles Ives, Carl Ruggles, Henry Cowell, and Edgard Varèse) and the European neo-classic modernism of the then-omnipresent Igor Stravinsky, as championed by Boulanger. What he finally settled on was not so much a rejection of this dichotomy as a fusion of these two strains. The Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harpsichord is a prime example of this synthesis.

According to the composer, the Sonata was written during a time (1952) when “I was preoccupied with the tie-memory patterns of music…” and with a freer, more vital and sensitive musical language. The harpsichord functions as the center of the music due to its “wonderful array of tone-colors.” Here is Carter’s description of the Sonata: “The music starts, Risoluto, with a splashing dramatic gesture whose subsiding ripples for the rest of the movement. The Lento is an expressive dialogue between the harpsichord and the others with an undercurrent of fast music that bursts out briefly near the end. The Allegro, with its gondolier’s dance fading into other dance movments, is cross-cut like a movie – at times it superimposes one dance on another.”  — Steve Lacoste