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Juxtapositions: Elliott Carter - A Labyrinth of Time
Juxtapositions Elliott Carter - A Labyrinth of Time
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2006     1hr 30min


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Movie Details

Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Studio: Juxtapositions
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 09/26/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2004
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, French, Spanish, German, Dutch

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Movie Reviews

Nice tribute to Mr. Carter
scarecrow | Chicago, Illinois United States | 01/12/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a nice tribute to Mr. Carter, a gentle man in the way he speaks, quite different than his ruggedly thorny, powerful penumbral anguish- ridden music.
Carter's music sits conceptually in the center of the 20th Century, so Charles Rosen tells us, in an appearance here between Stravinsky and Schoenberg or situated with strong reference to the European post-war musical paradigm. Rosen plays a little snippet from Carter's "First Piano Sonata", a Forties transitional work as the "Cello Sonata" both being good examples of this centerness; one a time keeper (the piano) the other a freer atonal agent, the cello. Both are interesting works, impassioned, quite free for the cello trying to relieve itself from the tyranny of obvious time, the (steady quarter notes) from the "stravinsky-aspect". We find this music sounding interestingly as a background for Carter gazing out his apartment speaking quite freely throughout this DVD, overdubbed and directly. He always reminds me of Burgess Meredith the actor. As Meredith, Carter's persona shares a stern dignity a cultured authority quite close to accepted musical discourse, never straying too far from what is known and can be done through serious music. We find also images of the young Carter, now perhaps a younger Robert Redford. There are vintage photographs revealed herein that gives this a way to some degree.

The piece here runs through Carter's life chronologically, quite useful to some degree and quite impossible to explore all aspects of his exceptional oeuvre.

We begin with reminiscences, visiting war torn Europe the First and then Second World Wars with recollections of extended residence situations throughout his career. These form a useful conceptual "hinterland" for much of the known complexity the dodecaphonic content of what his music has said and what it implies when you hear it.

His Greenwich Village apartment is the situs for much of the dialogue here; beautiful shots looking west I believe, and traversing different seasons as well. The gritty-ness, the untouched and abandoned edifices, the modernity of New York City, the metropolis is like a singular metaphor for Carter's music. He had provided modernity a new paradigm to create music to engage a concept to compose music, to explore rhythmic readings over longer distances of time; hence the title "labyrinth" here is useful. I think Carter certainly ushered in the thinking of found concepts, and found working means to organize all the functions of music, its complexity subverted slightly to render a different context, or to engage a text for a purely instrumental work as he has so frequently.

He writes music in a modest room, books on the back wall; original editions of Proust and Crane, with numerous size bound and loose-leaf pages of music manuscript(s)surrounding the work area. Some I believe are "notebooks" of tone configurations and/or skeletal premonitions or finalized ones of the work in front of him. An indefatigueable worker writing every day at his own concocted large 3-foot board tipped upwards, to the left an adjustable neck light clamped to the desk illuminating the proceedings, the music written with fine point pencil (automatic) in hand tying notes over a barline as he loves to do. He has an electrical eraser, with a motor adhering to Stravinsky's canon that music is really written "avec le gum" with an eraser.

The scenes looking outside this elegant spartan-like apartment have his wife's Helen sculptures. There are also multiple shots throughout of New York City, the nocturnal occasional lights and the crisp sunny mornings, all with the Twin Towers still standing. This reminds one of the situated-ness of Carter's music, that his music has dealt with the turbulence, the durability and chaos, the various "Times", the of the 20th Century. Carter's surface view is that man always finds a way out of this chaos. The music as well written over a lifetime of development has interestingly searched for concepts for these paradigms to put into play where the music unfolds over differing expanse(s) of time.

We learn for example in the 'First String Quartet' (written in Arizona under a Guggenheim Grant) was about the explosion of a chimney from a film. How does one represent different "movements" of durations, different speeds of time, gradations of pulses. This requires pre-planning Carter tells us sitting at his long mahogany dinner table. If you know the Carter 'Quartets' they are all excursions, a treatise in differing speeds, characterizations of persona, gesturings and modulations of pulse and rhythmic occurrences, large polyrhythms distributed over the entire work.
There are ample situated performances here with snippets of rehearsals as the Arditti Quartet, intense facial shots while playing the "Piano String Quintet". But Arditti only plays here no speaking live. However Ursula Oppens has a short moment on the opening of the massive "Piano Concerto", This Carter wrote in light of the new Berlin Wall. He was there with composition students in West Berlin at the time. "No",(to Ms Oppens) Carter says", "that's not quite right it has to be more dream-like ","No", "try again. . . "."Also I don't like the staccato. . . " "Yes, that's it. . . " The metaphor here is the piano represents "freedom" against the tyrannical orchestral (chordal constructed) accompaniment.
Also a moment with cellist Fred Sherry, another discussion in rehearsal over a sixteenth rest, Sherry exclaims, "if they are all downbows, you don't need the rest" it is assumed "to re-take the bow".

Carter also visits Nadia Boulanger's old studio in Paris where he once studied, a time the Nazis assumed power, yet there was this "Light" of culture that was and will be, the "illumination" of her studio. After (or prior) we see Carter then flipping through a bin of books in a street-side bookstore; Then a rehearsal with Pierre Boulez and Carter's "Clarinet Concerto". "No" Carter exclaims," he never does this part right", Boulez makes a note in the score and then speaks well of Carter, an "anomaly", in the uncompromising nature of the music, and as a composer working within a culture (American I assume) that always compromises culture for the "cashbox"(my word not Boulez's).

Sorry there wasn't footage of his larger works performed, although he did speak briefly about his "Symphony for Three Orchestras". There is also none of the conflicts of Carter's acceptance (within "Organized Music", i.e. who controls what, who gets played and how often). This was not discussed and a fairly conflict-free portrait of Carter the composer. But there are good useful parallels into the way Carter's music works, quite abstractly, (and safe) as his walking down a New York City street with its "chaos" of traffic, ambulance sirens, honking horns the onward rush, and stops, and the noise of foot-traffic. His music is much more complex than this but the metaphor is well understood.
The low points are excerpts from Carter's opera "What Next", explicated by the work's instigator Daniel Barenboim. The work is predictably about an atrocity, here a street accident is utilized as a metaphor for the time(s) we live?. The Berlin production is admirable but I don't find this relevant nor creative, nor interesting, nor inventive drama, nor congruent with Carter's massive oeuvre. You may find it otherwise.
Reveals much about Carter's aesthetic, influences, and exper
Christopher Culver | 10/22/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The Juxtapositions series of modern-classical documentary DVDs has featured such great composers as Mahler, Boulez, and Kurtag, and with Frank Scheffer's A LABYRINTH OF TIME we get a full-length overview of the life and work of Elliott Carter. At 98 years old as I write this, Carter has got a long career behind him, but his output has only increased in old age, and this film celebrates him as a major American composer.

Far from being a meaningless jumble of notes, Carter's music is, according to the composer, meant to represent the interaction of various personalities, play on the listener's perception of time, and symbolize the hubbub of the automobile and jet age. Indeed, Carter says that his turn to the avant-garde was motivated not by a search for abstraction, but rather by a desire to write music closer to life in our hectic contemporary society. There are plenty of music snippets here. We see the Arditti Quartet performing the String Quartet No. 1, cellist Fred Sherry helping the composer in the writing of the Cello Concerto and "For Mr. Ives", and pianist Ursula Oppens rehearsing the Piano Concerto. Charles Rosen, Pierre Boulez, and Daniel Barenboim are interviewed about their admiration for Carter's music.

As the title suggests, the documentary celebrates not only Carter's music but also the composer's long life. Indeed, the very first words spoken in the film are Carter reminiscing about Europe in l'entre deux guerres and his return to London after World War II. We see him looking over old examination papers from his time with Nadia Boulanger, reflecting on his admiration for Charles Ives and Edgar Varese. A major theme is how how New York has changed since his boyhood there in the 1910s, with the arrival of the automobile, the shifting artistic landscape, and (communicated only by a camera shot, not with words), the destruction of the World Trade Center. The earliest footage includes some domestic scenes with his late wife Helen Carter, who gave up a promising career as a sculpture to support her husband's music.

I was disappointed that there is no extra material on the disc besides the film itself. Other Juxtapositions discs have a second film or footage of the performance of a work. Nonetheless, if you are a Carter fan, this is a documentary worth seeing."