Carpenter was born in Park Ridge, IL, and was a direct descendant of John Alden, a passenger on the Mayflower. He graduated from Harvard in 1897, and then continued his composition studies with Edward Elgar and Bernhard Ziehn. He made his debut as a composer with his Violin Sonata in 1912; it was premiered by the famous Mischa Elman. Soon after, he began publishing songs, piano music, and his first orchestral piece, Adventures in a Perambulator, which recounted in music his childhood memories of being wheeled around in a carriage by his nanny. In 1921 he began to strike a more modern tone with his jazz-inflected ballet, Krazy Kat, which was based on the classic comic strip. Its success led to the commission of Skyscrapers, originally meant for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, but eventually premiered by the Metropolitan Opera. Other important works include the symphonic poem, Sea Drift (1933), and his Second Symphony, which Bruno Walter premiered with the New York Philharmonic in 1942. Carpenter's most enduring works have been his many songs, including those to texts of Langston Hughes
, Walt Whitman, and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.