Monday, January 31, 2011

Composerobit: Milton Babbitt

In a grim day for composers, the death has been announced of electronic pioneer and musical academic Milton Babbitt.

Babbitt was born in 1916, immersing himself in jazz to the point of studying composition at Princeton University under Roger Sessions.

Describing himself as a maximalist, Babbitt created works by stringing together intricately-engineered small units of music. Embracing the possibilities of magnetic tape and machine generated sounds in the 1950s, Babbitt believed the only way forward was for composers to work within the protective embrace of universities. Here, freed from the unpleasant influences of the outside world, he wrote in High Fidelity, proper work could be done:

I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public life of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.
It's an idea. What do you reckon the chances are of persuading Hunt and Cable that we need a few philosophical composers in the UK university sector?

Babbitt's friend, Paul Lansky, announced his death through Facebook:
“I’m sorry to report that Milton Babbitt died this morning at age 94. He was a great and important composer, and a dear friend, colleague and teacher."
Quite a life; quite an epitaph.