A Symphony of Three Orchestras

A Symphony of Three Orchestras is an orchestra composition by the American composer Elliott Carter. The work was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was composed from June through December 1976 and was first performed in New York City on February 17, 1977 by the New York Philharmonic under the conductor Pierre Boulez. The composition is dedicated to Boulez and the New York Philharmonic.[1][2][3]


A Symphony of Three Orchestras has a duration of roughly 17 minutes and is composed in a single movement. The work was inspired by the beginning of Hart Crane's poem The Bridge as it describes New York Harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge.[1]


The work is scored for a large orchestra divided into three ensembles. The first ensemble comprises three horns, two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, and strings (violins, violas, cellos, and basses). The second ensemble comprises two clarinets (doubling bass clarinet), E-flat clarinet, percussion, and strings (violins, cellos, and basses). The third ensemble comprises two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, cor anglais, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, percussion, and strings (violins, violas, and basses).[1]


The composition has been praised by musicians and critics alike. The cellist Fred Sherry (who performed the first recording of Carter's Cello Concerto) described A Symphony of Three Orchestras as one of three Carter pieces he would "recommend to every music lover," including his Concerto for Orchestra and Symphonia: sum fluxae pretium spei.[4] The music critic Tim Page of The Washington Post wrote, "It makes its strongest impression in concert, where one may listen to each ensemble playing its own allotted music, then combining with the other ensembles to create a cumulative whole."[5]


  1. ^ a b c Carter, Elliott (1976). "A Symphony of Three Orchestras". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  2. ^ Guerrieri, Matthew (November 11, 2012). "The American music of Elliott Carter: The composer's "difficult" music captured the spirit of the Founding Fathers". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  3. ^ Hewitt, Ivan (5 November 2012). "Elliott Carter obituary: American master of musical modernism". The Guardian. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  4. ^ Huizenga, Tom (December 11, 2012). "Musicians Remember Elliott Carter". NPR. Retrieved February 1, 2016.
  5. ^ Page, Tim (August 9, 1998). "American Composers: Elliott Carter—He Put Motion Into His Movements". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2016.