Listen: Elliott Carter – Holiday Overture

It’s been nearly a month since I posted a "Listen" column. What the heck have I been doing? (That’s a rhetorical question. I got busy at work, and it hasn’t let up.)

Better late than dead, as some endeavors on which I embark end up being, so here’s a selection from another out-of-print CD from the defunct Composers Recordings, Inc. label.

There was a time in Elliott Carter’s life when he did the nationalistic thing and wrote some fairly tonal works. He got over it and went back to writing dischordant pieces. The majority of Music of Elliot Carter, part of CRI’s "American Masters" series, focuses on that nationalistic period.

The disc contained three works — Holiday Overture, Suite from Pocahontas and Syringa. Syringa is by far the most obtuse of the three, and it’s angularity is only heightened by the populism of Holiday Overture and Suite from Pocahontas.

But even when he’s writing relatively tonal compositions, there’s still a dynamism to it. There’s no way to mistake Carter for Gustav Mahler. Hell, you can’t mistake him for Aaron Copland, the guy who epitomized American nationalist writing.

Call me a sap for liking the more tonal works on this disc, but if there’s one thing I demand in my modern classical music is some transparency. Go bugfuck if you like, just leave some hint of a direction. Syringa never really did that for me.

And so instead I feature Holiday Overture, a 9-minute piece with an incredible spirit. Besides, the holidays are about to start, right?

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