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Elliott Carter and Ballet Caravan


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#1 GNicholls

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 11:41 AM

Does anyone have information about Elliott Carter's significant involvement in the early years of Ballet Caravan? Having long admired Carter as a rather cerebral composer I was surprised to learn recently that he was "musical advisor" for the troupe from 1935-1940. Some sources say "music director," which implies "conductor," but I'm not sure he did much conducting. Anyone know?

He composed the score for Pocahontas (1936, 1939), choreographed by Lew Christensen. Some sources mention as well The Ball Room Guide (1937, chor. L. Christensen). Only suite from his last ballet The Minotaur (1947)is still performed occasionally. As musical advisor, he was the link to Copland for Billy the Kid (1938, chor. Eugene Loring), and to Virgil Thompson for The Filling Station (1938, chor. L. Christensen). Exciting times!

Carter is known for the musical device "metric modulation:" an irregular subdivision of the beat in one tempo becomes the main beat in a new tempo. By around 1950 he'd moved from neo-classicism to a complex modernist idiom, and now at the age of 102 he is still composing. His most recent premiere is described here My link. I remember him being interviewed at a New Music Concerts premiere here in Toronto at age 80, looking and sounding not a day over 60. And he had some short works premiered here just last December.

The idea of Carter as a ballet composer and advisor intrigues me and I'd love to learn more about his work.

#2 rg

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 01:15 PM

i have nothing substantive to add here, myself, but have you checked the Duberman biography of Kirstein called THE WORLDS OF LINCOLN KIRSTEIN?
maybe there's some information there.

#3 Quiggin

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Posted 03 September 2011 - 03:11 PM

I too was happy to find the connection between Elliott Carter and ballet when I came across an interview with him in "I remember Balanchine." There Carter talks about often going to reahearsals at the 59th and Madison studios (where he once saw the novelist Celine) and watching Balanchine choreograph. Carter compares Balanchine's onward going continuity with Eisenstein's and says "what was interesting was the process by which these moments came into being and by which they disappeared into other moments" – particularly unique to Balanchine and which he didn't see with other choreographers. Carter thinks that Balanchine's work of 1933, which he saw firsthand, was the most brilliant and experimental of all his work, with the exception of the late Stravinsky ballets, Webern "Episodes,"and "Davidsbundlertanze."

In David Schiff's book on Carter there is an interesting analysis of "Minotaur" which Balanchine was supposed to do and ended up with John Taras – how Carter was composing Stravinsky by hidden means and that it incorporated its melodic shape from an ancient Greek musical fragment.


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