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[#251] May 13, 2024

1991 | Wind Quintet and Piano | Grade 6 | 20’ – 25’ | Chamber winds

American composer Elliott Carter

“Quintet for Piano and Winds” by American composer Elliott Carter is our Composition of the Week.

Quintet for Piano and Winds was commissioned by world renowned Swiss oboist, composer and conductor Heinz Holliger and Köln Musik.

The work was written in 1991 and premiered one year later, on September 13, 1992, at the Köln Philharmonie, in Germany, with the following cast:


Heinz Holliger, Oboe

Elmar Schmid, Clarinet

Klaus Thunemann, Bassoon

Radovan Vlatkovic, Horn

Andras Schiff, Piano


The Quintet has a duration of 24 minutes, and it is edited by Boosey and Hawkes.


“When I accepted the commission by Heinz Holliger and Köln Musik to write this quintet for these remarkable performers, the thought of the masterpiece by Mozart for this combination led me to consider very seriously its range of expressive possibilities. To heighten the dialectic interplay between the instruments, I decided to treat the group as having three contrasting elements: piano, horn, and trio of woodwinds. Each is assigned to its own musical vocabulary and its own type of expressivity and character, derived from its instrumental capabilities. Thus, the interplay of commentary, answer, humorous detail, ironic, supportive of self-effacing were considered as part of the musical thought and expression. Although the quintet is in one continuous movement, there are frequent changes of mood, sometimes within one instrument’s part, at other times by groups. The work was composed in Southbury, Connecticut, during the summer of 1991.”  Program notes by Elliott Carter


Elliott Carter grew up in an affluent family and spent time with Charles Ives as a teenager, even receiving a letter of recommendation from the older composer in order to attend college. Carter studied at Harvard University with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame Hill and Gustav Holst, and at the Ecole Normale de Musique from Paris, with Nadia Boulanger.


Faculty positions he has held include St. John’s College in Annapolis (1939-43), the Peabody Conservatory (1946-48), Columbia University (1948-50), Queens College (1955-56), Yale University (1960-62), Cornell University (1967), and The Juilliard School (1964-84). Among the honors he has received are two Pulitzer Prizes (1960, 1973), the Sibelius Medal (1961), and the Gold Medal of the National Institute for Arts and Letters (1971).


Other works for winds by Carter include:


  • Brass Quintet (1974)

  • Woodwind Quintet (1948)

  • Canonic Suite (1945/1981)

  • Wind Rose (2008) for orchestral winds

  • Nine by five (2009)

  • Three explorations (2011)






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