The pianist Charles Rosen has posted his impressions of Elliott Carter's 103rd birthday concert on the New York Review of Book website. The post includes some nifty audio clips recorded at the concert, so you can hear what all the fuss was about. A clip from another new work, Three Explorations, appears at the bottom. The piece, on poems of T.S. Eliot, were premiered at Alice Tully Hall the week after the concert at the 92nd Street Y.
I was happy to see Mr. Rosen expressed reservations about Retracings III for solo trumpet, much as I did. I'm not a critic or a very well-trained musician, but the convergence of our opinions almost makes me think I heard the music as well as he did.
I must say, however, that I found his opening paragraph puzzling. The principal attraction of Mr. Carter's music, for me, has never really been the time issue, and when Mr. Rosen states that it captures perfectly our experience of time in the modern world, I have no idea what he means.
"We do not measure time regularly, like clocks do, but with many differing rates of speed," Mr. Rosen says. "In the complexity of today’s experience, it often seems as if simultaneous events were unfolding with different measures."
It does? I honestly cannot remember ever experiencing time in this way. None of my friends has ever mentioned it, either. The theory of relativity does describe time as elastic, depending on speed and mass, but it's unlikely you will ever witness the effects of relativity firsthand unless you have access to a particle accelerator. If, today, our experience of time differs from that of medieval peasants, it's because we are ruled by it more rigorously and more minutely. Our employers break the workday into fifteen-minute intervals, and we are expected to account for every second. It's the pressure and the tedium that get me, not the complexity.
"These different measures coexist and often blend but are not always rationalized in experience under one central system," Mr. Rosen continues. "We might call this a system of irreconcilable regularities."
We might, but I doubt it.
I had a similar problem with the theorizing in James Wierzbicki's little study of Carter, which reminded me that while the composer's music is often extraordinarily exciting, his musings on the nature of time are much, much less so.
And oh — thanks to my good friend (an occasional commenter here on the blog) EH, who sent me the Nonesuch Carter anthology as a Christmas present. He must have found it on my wish list at Amazon. I was holding off on buying it, since I already have most of the music on individual CDs, but now that it's here, I'll give it up when you pry my cold,dead fingers.