NEW YORK -- Classical composer Elliott Carter, whose challenging,rhythmically complex works earned him widespread admiration and twoPulitzer Prizes, died Monday at age 103.
His music publishingcompany, Boosey & Hawkes, called him an "iconic American composer."It didn't give the cause of his death.
In a 1992 Associated Pressinterview, Carter described his works as "music that asks to be listenedto in a concentrated way and listened to with a great deal ofattention."
"It's not music that makes an overt theatricaleffect," he said then, "but it assumes the listener is listening tosounds and making some sense out of them."
The complex way theinstruments interact in his compositions created drama for listeners whomade the effort to understand them, but it made them difficult fororchestras to learn. He said he tried to give each of the musiciansindividuality within the context of a comprehensible whole.
"This seems to me a very dramatic thing in a democratic society," he said.
While little known to the general public, he was long respected by an inner circle of critics and musicians. In 2002, The New York Timessaid his string quartets were among "the most difficult music everconceived," and it hailed their "volatile emotions, delicacy and even,in places, plucky humor."
Carter had remained astonishinglyactive, taking new commissions even as he celebrated his 100th birthdayin December 2008 with a gala at Carnegie Hall.
"I'm always proud of the ones I've just written," he said at the time.
In 2005, his Dialogues, which had premiered the previous year, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in music. And in 2006, his Boston Concerto was nominated for a Grammy Award as best classical contemporary composition.
Carter won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for his Second String Quartet; his second award was in 1973 for his Third String Quartet.The Juilliard String Quartet chose to mark its 45th anniversary in 1991with a concert of all four Carter string quartets. A fifth quartet cameout in 1995.
When the first National Medal of Arts awards weregiven in 1985, Carter was one of 10 people honored, along with suchlegends as Martha Graham, Ralph Ellison and Georgia O'Keeffe. The awardswere established by Congress in 1984.
The New Grove Dictionary ofAmerican Music said that at its best, Carter's music "sustains anenergy of invention that is unrivaled in contemporary composition."
Cartersaid he found Europeans more receptive to his works than his fellowAmericans because music in Europe is not purely entertainment but partof the culture, "something that people make an effort to understand."
The lack of widespread attention didn't seem to bother him.
"Idon't think it means anything to be popular," he said. "When we see thepopular tastes and the popular opinion constantly being manipulated byall sorts of different ways, it seems to me popularity is a meaninglessmatter."
In 1992, Carter said his favorite piece of music was his Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1969. It was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic for its 125th anniversary season.
"It particularly expresses a picture of the United States as an evolving world of not only people but of nature," he said.
Among his early works were two ballets, The Minotaur and Pocahontas, and his First Symphony. His First String Quartet in 1951 started him on the road to greater critical attention.
Besides composing, Carter wrote extensively about 20th-century music. A collection of articles, The Writings of Elliott Carter: An American Composer Looks at Modern Music, was published in 1977.
Carteras born in New York in 1908. As a young man he became acquainted withcomposer Charles Ives, who encouraged his ambitions. He studiedliterature at Harvard and then studied music in Paris under famedteacher Nadia Boulanger, who also guided Leonard Bernstein, AaronCopland and Virgil Thompson.
As Carter turned 100, he recalled avisit to the hall in 1924 to see the New York premiere of IgorStravinsky's revolutionary work The Rite of Spring.
"Ithought it was the greatest thing I ever heard, and I wanted to do likethat, too," Carter recalled. "Of course, half the audience walked out,which was even more pleasant to me. It seemed much more exciting thanBeethoven and Brahms and the rest of them."
In 1939, he married sculptor Helen H. Frost Jones. They had one son. He is survived by his son and a grandson.