‘Composing with time and sets’: E. Carter’s Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi

Fernando Martin-Pastor

University of Southampton, UK
University de la Rioja, Spain

During the last 20 years, Elliot Carter has mainly written chamber music and solo pieces, simplifying enormously his music means. Riconoscenza per Goffredo Petrassi for solo violin (1984), is a paradigm of different ways to create narrative through the use of sets and temporalities.

The main elements of the piece are 3 different materials that contrast with each other in speed, register, texture, and pitch content, being their rhythmic content: an unsteady metrical grid, a continuous, and a durational framework. These temporalities have also different pitch contents that reveal an interesting association of speed and tonal stability, through the use of 4 and 7-note sets and chromatic saturation.

The piece is also subdivided into 3 Sections: The 1st Section exploits the contrast between the different materials; The 2nd section, firstly juxtaposes and finally integrates two of them; Finally, in the 3rd section the three materials are integrated and led to a climax.

In a nutshell, Carter bases this piece upon 3 philological perceptions of time: time as contemplation (static), time as process (dynamic) and the classical ‘tempus ex machina’ (continuous). The narrative is supported by the instability of the rhythmic and pitch structure; however, the aim of the piece is to show how temporality and stability can be two sides of the same directional vector, which drives the piece to expand its content towards a climax, and thereby integrating its contrasting materials.