Carter died yesterday, Monday at his home in Greenwich Village which he and his wife bought in 1945 and where he had lived ever since. His death was announced by Virgil Blackwell, his personal assistant.
Carter was a protégé of the American modernist Charles Ives. He acknowledged that his works could seem incomprehensible to listeners who were not grounded in the developments of 20th-century music.
“As a young man, I harbored the populist idea of writing for the public,” he once explained to an interviewer who asked him why he had chosen to write such difficult music. “I learned that the public didn’t care. So I decided to write for myself. Since then, people have gotten interested.”
His music has earned him several awards including two Pulitzer Prizes. It was known for being harmonically brash and melodically sharp-edged on the first hearing.
Some of his works include Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Piano With Two Chamber Orchestras (1961), his Cello Sonata (1948) which is considered one of this century’s finest additions to that instrument’s repertory, and his solo keyboard works, the Piano Sonata (1946) and “Night Fantasies” (1980), are performed regularly and have been recorded several times.
“It’s a little bit frightening, because I’m not used to being appreciated,” he said in an onstage interview at Zankel Hall the night after a celebration with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “So when I am, I think I’ve made a mistake.”
Despite his years, he remained vital almost until the end.
Elliott Cook Carter Jr. was born in Manhattan on Dec. 11, 1908, the son of a wealthy lace importer. While he was a student at the Horace Mann School, he wrote an admiring letter to Ives, a New Englander with a crusty manner who nevertheless responded and urged him to pursue his interest in music.
In 1939 he married Helen Frost-Jones, a sculptor and art critic. She died in 1998. Their son, David, survives Mr. Carter, as does a grandson.