Returning to the United States in the late 1930s, Mr. Carter initially worked in the traditional mold of other Boulanger students, creating neoclassical, approachable, “American” works such as the ballet “Pocahontas,” which had its premiere in 1939. That same year, he married sculptor Helen Frost-Jones. She died in 2003. Survivors include a son, David Carter of Spencer, Ind.; and a grandson.
In the mid-1940s, after his “Holiday Overture” was rejected by the Boston Symphony, Mr. Carter moved away from so-called approachability, writing the “Piano Sonata” in 1945-6, the “Cello Sonata” in 1948 and then in 1950-1, the “String Quartet No. 1,” which was considered his first real breakthrough. The sprawling 40-minute work probed the idea of multiple perspectives in a single composition and put Mr. Carter on the map.
A performance of the quartet in Rome won the composer a good reputation in Europe — fame cemented in the 1960s and early ’70s by William Glock, the controller of music for BBC, who admired Mr. Carter’s works and played them on the radio.