…when my second quartet was played here at Harvard, my old teacher Walter Piston said to me, “you know, if I knew what it sounded like, I would have put the four players in separate rooms and shut the doors.”
-composer Elliott Carter, still avant-garde at 100 years old, interviewed by the Boston Herald. Via ArtsJournal. There’s also a great anecdote about my favorite composer, Charles Ives:
I [Carter] remember vividly this Sunday afternoon. I was taken to his [Ives’s] house by some friends, and we sat down and talked about music. I told him I liked Stravinsky. He sat at the piano, and I don’t think he had ever seen the score, he started playing the “Firebird.” And he said you can not repeat the way Stravinsky does. He was very angry about it, he said that’s just wrong. He thought repetition was a danger.
He didn’t really teach me anything, because I didn’t know much about music and I was just writing lousy little pieces. But I knew I had to study and I did at Harvard and such. But I admired his music. He had given up composing before I knew him. There were all these copies of his scores in the American Music Center which I went through and they were messy, and I tried to do something that I couldn’t follow up, tried to clean them up, they were awful. Like I think it was the fourth symphony, for two measures there would be six trombones playing and that’s all. I though maybe it’s all right, but it bothered me. I wanted to clean them up while he was alive, but it was too much and I couldn’t finish it. Finally Lou Harrison and Henry Cowell took over.
And Ives was against my going to Paris and studying with Boulanger. He thought I should stay home and be American. I one time went to visit him in Redding, and he played the “Concord Sonata” for me. He had a big vein in his neck and he held it like that, and his wife said, “Charlie you better quit now.” And she gave him a glass of milk. He was not well for years when he stopped composing.
I was involved with a music festival at Columbia, and I proposed that they do “The Unanswered Question” and “Central Park After Dark,” and I wrote to Mrs. Ives asking if they had been performed before. She said yes, some men in a New Haven vaudeville show had done it, and it would be unfair to call it a first performance.
I got this in a letter I got from her, and she said he was too sick to write back. But then I found out that he had written it, and she had copied it and added stuff. I have a whole article about things that she changed.
That last bit there relates quite pointedly to the previous post about who gets to relate whose experience. Yep.