David Carpenter was born in 1972 in Poughkeepsie, New York, a city on the Hudson River, just north of New York City. He began music lessons on the french horn, for which he wrote his first piece, "The Mourning Dove," at age 10. He went on to study music at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he graduated summa cum laude with his bachelor of arts degree in 1994. It was also at Bates he discovered the poetry of Emily Dickinson, which led to his first major work, Amherst Summer: Three Settings of Poems by Emily Dickinson, premiered by the Bates College Choir and Orchestra in 1996. After private study with composer Herschel Garfein, he pursued graduate work at the Peabody Conservatory, studying with Morris Cotel, completing his master of music degree in 1998. In 2006, he began work on his doctor of musical arts degree as a Presidential Fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia, studying with Maurice Wright. In the course of working on his degree, he attended the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Brevard Music Center, and was a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He completed his DMA in 2011, and has been living in Philadelphia since then.
Carpenter's music has been heard throughout the United States, including venues in California, Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Major performances include Fredericksburg, premiered by baritone William Stone with the Temple University Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Alan Harler, as part of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society's 2007–2008 concert series; Three Myths for Solo Bassoon, premiered by internationally-renowned bassoon virtuoso Pascal Gallois in 2008; and scenes from his opera, The Age of Innocence, based on the novel by Edith Wharton, in New York in 2013. He has also collaborated with the Momenta Quartet, who premiered his String Quartet in 2008, and the Argento Chamber Ensemble, who premiered his Sextet in 2010. In 2015, his music received its international debut with a performance of his Rhapsody by pianist Katelyn Bouska in Paris. Carpenter has also served as composer-in-residence with the Delaware County Symphony (Aston, PA), who performed his orchestral work, The River in the Tree, in May 2013. 2016 performances included his Trio for violin, viola, and cello and his Nunc Dimittis for choir, both premiered at the University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation in Philadelphia; and his Ave Verum Corpus, performed by the Richmond Chorale in Richmond, Virginia. Works to be performed in 2017 include his piano sonata; a set of songs for soprano and piano; and a setting Dietrich Bonhoeffer's poem "Von Guten Mächten," commissioned by Choral Arts of Philadelphia.