Elliott Carter, who died on November 5 at the age of 103, will be known as one of the most important American composers. Though he received two Pulitzer Prizes, a Guggenheim Fellowship and commissions from orchestras around the world, he was better renowned for his longevity than his substantial body of work. To commemorate Carter’s complex musical output, his cutting wit and his generosity toward fellow musicians, we’ve collected our favorite five videos featuring the composer and his work.
1. As Carter celebrated his centennial with concerts around the globe, journalists couldn’t resist reporting the story of the 100-year-old composer who was still producing some of his best work. Charlie Rose invited Carter onto his program with two of his champions: the conductors Daniel Barenboim and James Levine. Barenboim, remarking on Carter’s late-life prodigious streak, half-facetiously wondered what his next 20 or 30 years would bring.
2. One of the last taped conversations Carter did, and also one of the most charming, is a talk between the composer and the young cellist Alisa Weilerstein to celebrate her recording of Carter’s cello concerto. The meet-and-greet turns into a rather intense coaching session. Carter gives instructions on dynamics, pauses and even sings along to demonstrate his how he envisions the piece.
3. The New York Philharmonic had a longstanding relationship with Carter, having premiered his Concerto for Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein in 1970. In 2008, the symphony produced a video showcasing a discussion with the spry 99 year old and fellow composer Steven Stucky. The pair talks about Carter’s affinity for poetry, living near to E. E. Cummings, and having to smuggle a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses into the United States.
4. Carter completed his sole opera, What Next? in 1998 on the eve of his 90th birthday. It premiered the following year at the Berlin Staatsoper Under den Linden with Barenboim conducting, and showcased the composer’s love of complexity but also his wry sense of humor.
5. Much of our fascination with Carter stems from the composer’s direct experience with most of the 20th century. In 2010, music publisher Boosey and Hawks produced a three-part series of conversations with Carter mining his experiences. The segments start with remembrances of modern music of his youth—works like Schoenberg’s Pierrot Luniare and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The other two clips explore Carter’s symphonies and opera, and his relationship to poets and fellow composers.