The Corner

A Major Centenarian

Elliott Carter, one of the leading composers in the world, has died. He was 103. On the occasion of his hundredth birthday, I interviewed him. For my “Carterpalooza,” here on NRO, go here.

When Carter was born in 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. Carter was fully eight years old when America entered World War I. He remembered this war distinctly, and told me quite interesting things about it (and its aftermath).

At least one of Carter’s grandfathers was in the Civil War — fought at Gettysburg, in fact. Carter knew him well: “Grandpa was a jolly old man, who had lots of fun, and was very shrewd.”

When a boy, Carter lived on 114th Street at Riverside Drive, here in New York. On the roof of their building, he played with early radios, trying to catch a signal.

It was hearing a fairly new piece at Carnegie Hall that decided him on becoming a composer. That was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Stravinsky was a quite young man when he wrote it — barely 30.

Anyway, I could go on (and do, of course, in the “Carterpalooza”). I have my reservations about Carter’s music and philosophy, to put it mildly, but I’m not sure I’ve ever talked with a more richly experienced man. Smart son-of-a-gun, too.

P.S. As this is Election Day, it might be appropriate to reproduce this part of my palooza:

After the war [World War I], his father took him on several trips to Europe, and they saw the devastation that had occurred: “dreadful things,” says Carter. Hunger was acute. A later trip took them to Baden-Baden in 1923 — and Carter remembers reading in a newspaper that President Harding had died.

This leads me to ask him whether he has a favorite president. After a few moments, he says, “Oh, certainly one can’t fail to say that it is Abraham Lincoln.” I was thinking of presidents during his lifetime — but, of course, he is right.

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