Elliott Carter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer who fused European and American modernist traditions in seminal but formidable works, and who lived to hear ovations for music that was once thought to be anything but listener-friendly, died Monday at his home in New York City. He was 103.
His assistant, Virgil Blackwell, confirmed the death but did not disclose an immediate cause.
Much of Carter’s music was difficult to play, difficult to listen to and, judging by the slow pace of Carter’s output, difficult to write. Yet it also embodied a certain simplicity. As Carter aged, he emphasized the connections between his music and the world around it. He said that he sought to represent the pace of the 20th century: the acceleration and deceleration of an airplane rather than the regular beats, and horses’ hooves, of 18th- and 19th-century music.
Carter experimented most notably with meter, or rhythm, and challenged audiences to follow multiple instruments that played simultaneously to different beats.
Carter said that his music presented society as he hoped it would be: “A lot of individuals dealing with each other, sensitive to each other, cooperating and yet not losing their own individuality.”
Carter’s “String Quartet No. 2” won him the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes in 1960; the second was for “String Quartet No. 3” in 1973.