Carter at 100: Part 5

6. Boston Concerto (2002)

Carter spent the 1960s and 70s developing his musical language (mostly) outside of mainstream musical institutions and without resorting to trends like serialism, minimalism, and neo-Romanticism. Since that time he has written a series of pieces that have seemed to flow almost without effort and with what many observers hear as a new lucidity and transparency of texture and of musical discourse.

One vehicle for this transparency has been the composer’s frequent use of a kind of alternating form reminiscent of the baroque concerto grosso form. In a concerto grosso, sections of recurring material are played by the full orchestra (tutti). These tutti sections tend to be fuller and weightier than the sections that link them.

In Boston Concerto Carter reverses this idea—the tutti sections echo these lines from William Carlos Williams’ “Rain”:

As the rain falls
So does
your love

bathe every
Object of the world –

Seven watery, ephemeral tutti sections alternate with six brief (the longest is just under two minutes and the whole piece lasts but seventeen) “movements” scored for sub-divisions of the orchestra. For example, a movement marked “Lento, sostenuto” (Slow, sustained) is scored for the brass section after that section had been silent for the preceding tutti. With its constantly changing scoring, the color of Boston Concerto is kaleidoscopic in nature. The piece, like so much of Carter’s recent music, offers references to musical procedures of the past, colorful, virtuosic, and transparent instrumental writing, and collage-like forms in which musical characters appear and disappear before becoming fully developed.

After the final movement, “Maestoso – molto espressivo” (Majestic – very expressive), angular, craggy (in the finest New England tradition) lines for violins and cellos, comes the concluding tutti. Instead of a climactic peroration of the material of the concerto, this ending is quiet, slightly lingering, like a soft rain.

Part 1: Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948)/Duo for Violin and Piano (1974)

Part 2: Night Fantasies (1980)

Part 3: Enchanted Preludes (1988)

Part 4: Symphonia: Sum Fluxae Pretium Spei (1996)

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