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News - (Re)View: Carter: "Pocahontas"

Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Elliott Carter and Pocahontas. Not
necessarily a connection that anyone who was
around in the mid-1990s would make. However,
in 1936 the young composer was hard at work
on his first ballet, bringing the Pocahontas
story to life long before Disney.
Commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein's traveling
ballet company Ballet Caravan, this first of
two Carter ballets was an integral part of
Kirstein's desire to bring ballet to America
- not just New York City, but the vast land

As a distinctly American story with a rugged
neo-classical score, POCAHONTAS captures the
adventuresome spirit of the settlers arriving
in unknown lands and the compassion of the
original Americans. Written and rewritten
between 1936 and 1939, the voyage of the
ballet POCAHONTAS was nearly as exciting as
that of Pocahontas herself. Part of the
initial incarnation of the ballet was
eventually added to Carter's SYMPHONY NO. 1.
A piano version surfaced in Keene, NH, in
August 1936, only to disappear again for 3
years. The complete POCAHONTAS ballet
premiered on 24 May 1939 in New York City on
the same program as Copland's new ballet
BILLY THE KID, and then joined a number of
other new American ballets on the Ballet
Caravan tour of the US.

Reworked into a slightly shorter (20') suite
in 1941, POCAHONTAS moved away from the
ballet stage and now also stands on its own
as a concert work (and even survived a trip
to England, unlike its namesake). The SUITE
FROM POCAHONTAS was recorded in 2001 by the
American Composers Orchestra with Paul Lustig
Dunkel on CRI.


Elliott Carter (b. 1908)
POCAHONTAS (1939) 22'
3222/4331/4timp.perc/; 2-pf score
available Ballet legend in one act.


While I was a student in Paris the
choreographer George Balanchine had two weeks
of Balanchine ballets in the Champs Élysée. A
man I'd known in college, Lincoln Kirstein
was very much impressed by this and it was he
that got George Balanchine to come over to
the United States and start the New York City
Ballet. In the early days, I was a musical
advisor to that for a while. I was
commissioned actually to write one ballet for
them, which was done in 1939 on the subject
of Pocahontas."

— Elliott Carter


Turning 97 on 11 December, Carter is in the
midst of many celebrations, including BBC
Symphony Orchestra presentation of “Get
Carter: The music of Elliott Carter” in
January 2006.

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