Elliott Carter, Esprit Rude / Esprit Doux

February 8, 2018

Elliott Carter (1908-2012)

Esprit rude/Esprit doux for flute and clarinet(1984)

Elliott Carter American composer Elliott Carter was a true phenomenon. Born in 1908, he lived to the age of 103 writing more than 60 new works even after the age of 90. Carter studied at Harvard where he was mentored by Charles Ives, studied in Paris with the esteemed Nadia Boulanger and was eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice (for his second and third string quartets) among several other awards and prizes. Growing out of numerous influences including Stravinsky, Copland, Roy Harris and Paul Hindemith, Carter’s mature style occupies an individual world all his own featuring a predominantly atonal vocabulary, a systematic exploration of pitch collections, and, especially, a daunting exploration of rhythm and tempo often assigning a different character of motion to each part forming complex, ever-changing polyrhythms. Carter composed in nearly every genre with a particularly fecundity for chamber music.

Carter composed Esprit rude/Esprit doux for flute and clarinet for the 60th birthday celebration of conductor and composer Pierre Boulez, another unstoppable exponent of the 20th century avant-garde. Carter found inspiration in the classical Greek phrase for “sixtieth year”, with its two contrasting vowel sounds and a musical motto spelling “Boulez.” In his own words:

The title, translated as “rough breathing/smooth breathing,” refers to the pronunciation of classical Greek words beginning with a vowel. With esprit rude (rough breathing) the initial vowel is to be preceded by a sounded H, and is indicated by a reverse comma above the letter. With esprit doux (smooth breathing) the initial vowel is not to be preceded by H and is indicated by a comma above the vowel. In the Greek for “sixtieth year” (transliterated as hexèkoston etos) the initial epsilon of the first word has a rough breathing sign while the epsilon of the second has a smooth one.

The score begins and ends with the motto:
B-flat C A E
B (O) U(t) L(a) E (Z) using both the French and German names of the notes. Both instruments have some rough and some smooth breathing.

– Elliott Carter

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.