We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


Music in the Late Twentieth Century


CHAPTER 6 Standoff (II)
Richard Taruskin

Carter had willy-nilly become the chief standard bearer for the traditional modernist view of art and its autonomous history at the very moment when that view began, for reasons that will emerge in the coming chapters, to be embattled (that is, began losing ground). Critics chose precisely the most utopian aspects of Carter's music on which to lavish praise, and began describing his stature, and his achievement, in reckless terms. Reviewing the Third Quartet on its premiere, Andrew Porter (an influential British critic working in New York) dubbed Carter “internationally …America's most famous living composer”43 at a time when Aaron Copland and John Cage, to name only two, were still productive. By 1979, Porter was ready to pronounce Carter “the greatest living composer”44 without qualification, preferring him to Messiaen (Carter's senior by one day) on the argument that “each new work” of Carter's, unlike Messiaen's, “breaks new ground.” A year later, Bayan Northcott, another British critic, launched the article on Carter in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians by observing, quite “factually” as befits a reference work, that “at best his music sustains an energy of invention that is unrivalled in contemporary composition.”45 But a familiar problem gnawed, and a familiar ploy persisted. Porter hailed the Third Quartet as “a major new composition, a piece that is passionate, lyrical, and profoundly exciting,” despite the fact that “myriad details passed by uncomprehended.” A listener, he warned, “will probably never know exactly how precise any particular performance is,” and yet the critic was prepared to affirm that “he will no doubt be more deeply moved by accurate than by loose executions.”46 As we have already seen in the case of Stravinsky's response to the Double Concerto, personal judgment is altogether suspended in favor of “trust in the composer,” even when there can be no sensory or rational corroboration. Just as in genuine religious thought, faith is accompanied, indeed generated, by bafflement.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Standoff (II)." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 21 Sep. 2023. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-006007.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 6 Standoff (II). In Oxford University Press, Music in the Late Twentieth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 21 Sep. 2023, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-006007.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 6 Standoff (II)." In Music in the Late Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 21 Sep. 2023, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume5/actrade-9780195384857-div1-006007.xml
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.