Carter and Tymoczko - ABEL Listening

In our Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature class, we listened to two pieces by composers Elliot Carter and Dmitri Tymoczko who each had very different styles. We were asked to provide our thoughts on each of the composer's pieces. Below are mine:

Brass Quintet - Elliott Carter


It is interesting to ask what my feelings or the effect that the piece evoked. After being exposed to “new music” in my undergraduate career and even more here at University of Iowa thanks to the Center for New Music Ensemble, I found this piece to be rather tame compared to what I am used to hearing or playing. It seems that so many “new music” composers are interested in creating unique timbres and very specific rhythms musicians should play. If I were to describe this piece in a few words, I would say that it sounds like it is wandering in some sort of space. I think Carter achieves this by 1) utilizing a rather “slow” tempo in order to allow the music to organically grow and 2) having such well-placed moments of tutti growth or glissandos like at around 7:30 of the recordings.


From a listener’s perspective, the music may sound rhythmically free, however there is a method to the piece’s madness in terms of rhythm. It is organized chaos. In terms of harmony and melody, the piece is obviously atonal, but is not jarring as one may expect. Further, there is no concrete melody that one may latch onto, rather a series of sounds that are quite unique.


Rube Goldberg Variations - Dmitri Tymoczko






I found this piece to be more exciting to listen to thanks to having a forward motion with the movements in the brass, but having the addition of prepared piano creates a unique set of sounds to play with. For my description, I would say that this piece is exciting and sounds a little like Philip glass and Steve Reich combined. I think there is some sort of planned out structure for this piece since parts of the prepared piano gradually come off as the piece progresses.


The music definitely provides listeners with the feeling of forward momentum. Each movement had its own quirk, but it seemed to me that there was a different groove to each, but it was all contributing to the piece as a whole, and had a type of uniformity. I think the melody is in the groove and rhythm of each movement.



I found the Rube Goldberg Variations more entertaining to listen to compared to Carter’s Brass Quintet as there were a number of unique sounds from the ensemble harmonically and melodically. I think for Carter’s piece, one must have more patience and a focused mind to listen to the piece in its entirety, whereas Tymoczko’s piece has something to draw listeners’ attention in each movement. Further, Carter’s work seems to have a more organic and natural development that sounds rather improvisatory compared to Tymoczko’s piece that sounded more planned out than aleatoric.