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Elliott Carter: A Symphony of Three Orchestras [1976]

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Uploaded on Jul 14, 2011

Performed by Boulez and the New York Philharmonic.

Carter refers to his work as one *of* three orchestras, rather than *for* three orchestras, because he wanted to stress the idea of the ensembles sounding simultaneously, rather than antiphonally. The ensembles consist of the following forces: Orchestra I contains brass, strings, and timpani; Orchestra II, clarinets, piano, vibraphone, chimes, marimba, solo violins, basses and a group of cellos; Orchestra III, flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, violins, violas, basses and non-pitched percussion.
The complex work typifies Carter's sophisticated manner of coordinating instrumental groups. Each orchestra plays four "movements" of differing characters, as in a traditional symphony. Each movement, however, is sounded while another orchestra is finishing its movement, creating one twelve-movement structure of continuously overlapping sound. In his preface to the score, Carter wrote:

"The listener, of course, is not meant, on first hearing, to identify the details of this continually shifting web of sound any more than he is to identify the modulations in Tristan und Isolde, but rather to hear and grasp the character of this kaleidoscope of musical themes as they are presented in varying contexts."

More than simply a technical tour de force, this approach is an attempt to reflect a fluid and complex reality in music:

"I do not want to give the impression of a simultaneous motion in which everybody's part is coordinated like a goose step. I do not want to write the kind of music that just marches on and marches off. I want it to seem like a crowd of people, or like waves on the sea -- all things that signify a much more fluid and, to me, more human way of living." (quoted in Charles Rosen, The Musical Languages of Elliott Carter, 1984".

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