Centenarian composer Elliott Carter; film composer Richard Robbins.
Carter at home in 1960
© Everett Collection Historical/Alamy 2013
New York, NY, December 11, 1908 — November 5, 2012
The composer, who died just a few weeks short of his 104th birthday, was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in a career that lasted for more than eight decades. Carter's song "My Love Is in a Light Attire," a setting of a James Joyce poem, was submitted for publication in New Music in 1928; his last work, 12 Short Epigrams for piano, was completed in August 2012. In between extended a formidable list of concertos, orchestral works, chamber pieces, solo instrumental works, songs and ballets, all compositions of challenging technical difficulty charged with Carter's vigorous intellect. The dauntingly complex, stratified rhythmic structure and chromatic formulations that characterized Carter's most significant work prevented him from being a "popular" composer in the conventional sense, but his importance to American music was undeniable: Stravinsky called Carter's Double Concerto (1961) "the first true American masterpiece." Carter's late works — he published more than forty compositions after his ninetieth birthday — were simpler and more relaxed in affect than the knotty large-scale works that established his reputation, but they remained singularly adventuresome.
Carter's first and only produced opera, the one-act What Next?, was composed in 1997–98 at the invitation of Daniel Barenboim, music director of Berlin's Staatsoper Unter den Linden. The story line of What Next?, which has a libretto by critic Paul Griffiths, was suggested by the 1971 Jacques Tati film Traffic. The opera had its stage premiere in Berlin in 1999, conducted by Barenboim, and had its first staged performance in the U.S. in the summer of 2006, at the Tanglewood Music Festival, conducted by Carter's longtime admirer James Levine, who frequently programmed vocal and instrumental works by Carter in concert and recitals. The MET Chamber Ensemble and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung gave the world premiere of Carter's In the Distances of Sleep at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in 2006. Other Carter works that Levine programmed for Met musicians and singers include Luimen; Variations for Orchestra; andthe song cycles Tempo e Tempi, In Sleep, in Thunder and A Mirror on Which to Dwell. The most recent Carter work to be featured in a Levine Met performance was Syringa, the composer's multilayered setting of John Ashbery's poem, which was the centerpiece of a MET Chamber Ensemble recital at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in January 2010.
Carter, who was educated at Horace Mann School, Harvard University, the Longy School and at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, had a number of significant teaching associations, including St. John's College in Annapolis, Peabody Conservatory, Columbia University, Queens College, Yale, the American Academy in Rome, the Juilliard School, Cornell University and the Tanglewood Music Center, which devoted its Festival of Contemporary Music to Carter's work in 2008. That summer, Tanglewood audiences were offered the rare experience of celebrating a composer's centennial at concerts with the composer in attendance.
South Weymouth, MA, December 4, 1940 — Rhinebeck, NY, November 7, 2012
A longtime collaborator of director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, Robbins composed the scores for every Merchant–Ivory film from The Europeans (1979) to The White Countess (2005). Robbins's Oscar-nominated work for Merchant–Ivory's Room with a View (1985) incorporated themes from La Rondine and Gianni Schicchi to powerful effect, bringing "O mio babbino caro" and "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" to millions of new Puccini fans.
Fairfield, CT, October 20, 1922 — Wallingford, CT, November 28, 2012
After service in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, the bass studied voice with Mario Pagano at the American Theatre Wing and with soprano Toti dal Monte in Rome. He made his professional opera debut in Palermo, in 1956, in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A specialist in bass character roles such as Sparafucile, Timur, the Grand Inquisitor, Colline, Alvise and Ramfis, Ventriglia was active professionally in all of the major Italian theaters, including La Scala, La Fenice, Teatro San Carlo, Teatro Communale in Bologna, Teatro Regio Turin, Teatro Regio Parma, Rome Opera, Genoa and the Maggio Musicale in Florence. In the U.S., Ventriglia sang with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Civic Opera and Connecticut Opera, among other theaters.
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