Elliott Carter Makes Billboard Top 200

A couple of years ago, I was marveling at Elliott Carter being still alive and still working at 100. In December, I did a blog entry marveling at his turning 102.

But the surprises aren’t done. Carter has now reached the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.

Yeah, the same chart that hosts every schlocky band that does MTV appearances and Disney soundtracks.

The news is a little bit old, but in case you don’t know: It’s actually Bruce Hornsby’s live double-CD, Bride of the Noisemakers, that’s made the charts, and it happens to include a composition of Carter’s.

This was a revelation to me. I always knew Hornsby had better than bar-band chops and an affinity for jazz. I just never associated his thick Americana chording with anything more — serious? cerebral?

Really, I’ve associated him with musicians on the smooth-jazz end of the spectrum, like Pat Metheney and The Yellowjackets, because that’s who he was hanging out with in the ’90s. And indeed, “Talk of the Town” on Bride pulls out the soprano sax and the synths — but it’s also got some playful, edgy tricks. Strange breakdowns and an angular piano segment that made me smile.

Carter’s spotlight is during the introduction to “Talk of the Town.” That introduction starts with some kind of horn, possibly trumpet, played in such a warbled and slow-motion fashion as to be unrecognizable. Then Hornsby cuts in with crazed hunt-and-peck piano that includes parts of Webern’s “Variations II” and Carter’s “Caténaires.”

The crowd loves it. How are they to know they’re supporting new classical music?

Here’s a quote, taken from Hornsby’s May 18 press release:  “I’m also extremely pleased that the classical composer, Elliott Carter, at 102 years old, is now represented on the Billboard charts, with our excerpt of his piece, ‘Caténaires.'” A canned quote, to be sure, but I love that he namechecked Carter.

“Catenaires” got its recorded premiere on a recent CD by Ursula Oppens. Built of feverish 16th notes, it’s a jigsaw puzzle that’s been kicked off the table. Here’s Sean Chen doing the kicking.