Saturday, April 27, 2013

Carter Lives

Daniel Asia spits on Elliott Carter's grave this week over at the Huffington Post. In a piece titled "Carter is Dead" (evoking Boulez' famous pronouncement on the music of Schoenberg), he says, essentially, that the late Mr. Carter had no real talent and never did anything right in his whole life.

The essay is not interesting, but its timing is. Not only did Asia wait until Carter was safely out of the way. He waited until Charles Rosen was, too. At that point, he must have known the coast was clear, and he could safely to poke his nose out of his burrow. His little presumptions are exactly the sort of thing that Rosen, the Huxley to Carter’s Darwin, was so adept at skewering. He would have chewed it up before breakfast, then tossed off three thousand words on Mozart’s use of tonality.

I suspect that Mr. Asia produced his essay in a spirit of malicious glee, fully expecting a firestorm of protest and ready to declare that the anger and defensiveness of Carter’s admirers is proof that he had somehow touched a nerve. But there really isn’t much here to get upset about, and even less to argue with. The criticisms, such as they are, consist of simple assertions. One either agrees with them or one does not. I do not. Here are some counter-assertions, for the record: Carter’s piano music does not “pale” beside Copland’s; the Eight Etudes for wind quartet hold up quite nicely, thank you; and the finale of the Cello Sonata is hardly “cute.”

I have never changed anyone's mind about music through argument, and no one has ever changed mine. Sometimes, through repeated listening, I have learned to like something I initially found daunting or dull, but I've never stopped liking a piece of music simply because somebody told me to. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course, even Mr. Asia, but my listening habits remain unchanged. It's not a matter of "I'm right and he's wrong." It's more a matter of "I'm cool, and he's a doofus."

What I find heartening in Asia's piece, however, is that he really isn’t saying anything Donal Henahan and Harold C. Schoenberg weren’t saying forty years ago. To a man, the sages from our paper of record didn’t think Carter’s music had a future, either, and yet, here we are, forty years later, having the same discussion. If the future is anything like the past, the controversy will continue, and so will the music.

Now, to clear the air, I offer the Adagio of the 1948 Cello Sonata, one of my favorite movements in all of music:


john schott said...



Anonymous said...

Elliott Carter--brilliant composer. Charles Rosen--a fine interpreter.

And Daniel who?