In 1958, Babbitt achieved unsought notoriety through an article in the popular magazine High Fidelity (Babbitt 1958). Babbitt said his own title for the article was "The Composer as Specialist" (as it was later published several times, including in Babbitt 2003, 48–54, but that "The editor, without my knowledge and—therefore—my consent or assent, replaced my title by the more 'provocative' one: 'Who Cares if You Listen?' a title which reflects little of the letter and nothing of the spirit of the article" (Babbitt 1991, 15).
More than 30 years later, he commented: "For all that the true source of that offensively vulgar title has been revealed many times, in many ways, even—eventually—by the offending journal itself, I still am far more likely to be known as the author of 'Who Cares if You Listen?' than as the composer of music to which you may or may not care to listen" (Babbitt 1991, 15).
Babbitt later became interested in electronic music. He was hired by RCA as consultant composer to work with their RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (known since 1996 as the Columbia University Computer Music Center), and in 1961 produced his Composition for Synthesizer. Babbitt was less interested in producing new timbres than in the rhythmic precision he could achieve using the Mark II synthesizer, a degree of precision previously unobtainable in live performances (Barkin & Brody 2001).
Although he would eventually shift his focus away from electronic music, the genre that first gained for him public notice, by the 1960s Babbitt was writing both electronic music and music for conventional musical instruments, often combining the two. Philomel (1964), for example, was written for soprano and a synthesized accompaniment (including the recorded and manipulated voice of Bethany Beardslee, for whom the piece was composed) stored on magnetic tape.
From 1985 until his death he served as the Chairman of the BMI Student Composer Awards, the international competition for young classical composers. Milton Babbitt died in Princeton, New Jersey on January 29, 2011 at the age of 94 (Kozinn 2011; Anon. 2011b).
(1955). "Some Aspects of Twelve-Tone Composition". The Score and I.M.A. Magazine 12:53–61.
(1958). "Who Cares if You Listen?". High Fidelity (February). [Babbitt called this article "The Composer as Specialist." The original title was changed without his knowledge or permission by an editor at High Fidelity.]
(1960). "Twelve-Tone Invariants as Compositional Determinants," Musical Quarterly 46/2.
(1961). "Set Structure as Compositional Determinant," Journal of Music Theory 5/1.
(1965). "The Structure and Function of Musical Theory," College Music Symposium 5.
(1972). "Contemporary Music Composition and Music Theory as Contemporary Intellectual History", Perspectives in Musicology: The Inaugural Lectures of the Ph. D. Program in Music at the City University of New York, edited by Barry S. Brook, Edward Downes, and Sherman Van Solkema, 270–307. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-02142-4. Reprinted, New York: Pendragon Press, 1985. ISBN 0-918728-50-9.
(1987) Words About Music: The Madison Lectures, edited by Stephen Dembski and Joseph Straus. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
(1992) "The Function of Set Structure in the Twelve-Tone System." PhD Dissertation. Princeton: Princeton University.
(2003). The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt, edited by Stephen Peles, Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, Joseph Straus. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
List of compositions
1935 Generatrix for orchestra (unfinished)
1939–41 String Trio
1940 Composition for String Orchestra (unfinished)
1941 Symphony (unfinished)
1941 Music for the Mass I for mixed chorus
1942 Music for the Mass II for mixed chorus
1946 Fabulous Voyage (musical, libretto by Richard Koch)
1946 Three Theatrical Songs for voice and piano (taken from Fabulous Voyage)
1994 No Longer Very Clear for soprano and four instruments, setting of a poem by John Ashbery
1994 Tutte le corde for piano
1994 Arrivals and Departures for two violins
1994 Accompanied Recitative for soprano sax and piano
1995 Manifold Music for organ
1995 Bicenguinguagenary Fanfare for brass quintet
1995 Quartet for piano and string trio
1996 Quintet for clarinet and string quartet
1996 Danci for solo guitar
1996 When Shall We Three Meet Again? for flute, clarinet and vibraphone
1998 Piano Concerto No. 2
1998 The Old Order Changeth for piano
1999 Composition for One Instrument for celesta
1999 Allegro Penseroso for piano
1999 Concerto Piccolino for vibraphone
2000 Little Goes a Long Way for violin and piano
2000 Pantuns for soprano and piano
2001 A Lifetime or So for tenor and piano
2002 From the Psalter soprano and string orchestra
2002 Now Evening after Evening for soprano and piano, setting of a poem by Derek Walcott
2002 A Gloss on 'Round Midnight for piano
2003 Swan Song No. 1 for flute, oboe, violin, cello, mandolin (or guitar), and guitar
2003 A Waltzer in the House for soprano and vibraphone, setting of a poem by Stanley Kunitz
2004 Concerti for Orchestra, for James Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra
2004 Autobiography of the Eye for soprano and cello, setting of a poem by Paul Auster
2005–6 More Melismata for solo cello
2006 An Encore for violin & piano
Clarinet Quintets. Phoenix Ensemble (Mark Lieb, clarinet; Aaron Boyd, Kristi Helberg, and Alicia Edelberg, violins; Cyrus Beroukhim, viola; Alberto Parinni and Bruce Wang, cellos). (Morton Feldman, Clarinet and String Quartet; Milton Babbitt, Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet). Innova 746. St. Paul. MN: American Composers Forum, 2009.
The Juilliard String Quartet: Sessions, Wolpe, Babbitt. Roger Sessions, String Quartet No. 2 (1951); Stefan Wolpe, String Quartet (1969); Milton Babbitt, String Quartet No. 4 (1970). The Juilliard Quartet (Robert Mann, Joel Smirnoff, violins; Samuel Rhodes, viola; Joel Krosnick, cello). CRI CD 587. New York: Composers Recordings, Inc., 1990.
Occasional Variations (String Quartets no. 2 and No. 6, Occasional Variations, Composition for Guitar). William Anderson, guitar; Fred Sherry Quartet, Composers String Quartet. Tzadik 7088. New York: Tzadik, 2003.
Philomel (Philomel, Phonemena for soprano and piano, Phonemena for soprano and tape, Post-Partitions, Reflections). Bethany Beardslee and Lynne Webber, sopranos; Jerry Kuderna and Robert Miller, pianos. New World Records 80466-2 / DIDX 022920. New York: Recorded Anthology of American Music, 1995. The material on this CD was issued on New World LPs NW 209 and NW 307, in 1977 and 1980, respectively.
Quartet No. 3 for Strings. (With Charles Wuorinen, Quartet for Strings.) The Fine Arts Quartet. Turnabout TV-S 34515.
Sextets; The Joy of More Sextets. Rolf Schulte, violin; Alan Feinberg, piano. New World Records NW 364–2. New York: Recorded Anthology of American Music, 1988.
Soli e Duettini (Around the Horn, Whirled Series, None but the Lonely Flute, Homily, Beaten Paths, Play it Again Sam, Soli e Duettini, Melismata). The Group for Contemporary Music. Naxos 8559259.
Three American String Quartets. Mel Powell, String Quartet (1982); Elliott Carter, Quartet for Strings No. 4 (1986); Milton Babbitt, Quartet No. 5 (1982). Composers Quartet (Matthew Raimondi, Anahid Ajemian, violins; Maureen Gallagher, Karl Bargen, violas; Mark Shuman, cello). Music & Arts CD-606. Berkeley: Music and Arts Program of America, Inc., 1990.
An Elizabethan Sextette (An Elizabethan Sextette, Minute Waltz, Partitions, It Takes Twelve to Tango, Playing for Time, About Time, Groupwise, Vision And Prayer). Alan Feinberg, piano; Bethany Beardslee, soprano; The Group for Contemporary Music, Harvey Sollberger, conducting. CRI CD 521. New York: Composers Recordings, Inc., 1988. Reissued on CRI/New World NWCR521.
Babbitt, Milton (2003). The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt, edited by Stephen Peles, Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, Joseph Straus. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08966-3.
Barkin, Elaine, and Martin Brody (2001). "Babbitt, Milton (Byron)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers; New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music.
Columbia University (1991). The Pulitzer Prizes, 1917–1991. New York: Columbia University.
Dembski, Stephen, and Joseph N. Straus, eds. (1987). Milton Babbitt: Words about Music. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-10790-6.
Fisk, Josiah, and Jeff Nichols (1997). Composers on Music: Eight Centuries of Writings, second edition. Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1-55553-278-0 (cloth); ISBN 1-55553-279-9 (pbk).
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