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RIP Milton Babbit QEPD

Composer Milton Babbitt has died.
El compositor Milton Babbitt ha muerto.

Obituaries below, here's his in/famous essay "Who Cares if You Listen?"

From The Times:
January 29, 2011

Milton Babbitt, Composer, Dies at 94


Milton Babbitt, an influential composer, theorist and teacher who wrote music that was intensely rational and for many listeners impenetrably abstruse, died on Saturday. He was 94 and lived in Princeton, N.J.

Paul Lansky, a composer who studied with Mr. Babbitt and was a colleague at Princeton University, where Mr. Babbitt remained an emeritus professor of composition, said that Mr. Babbitt died at a hospital in Princeton.

Mr. Babbitt, who had a lively sense of humor despite the reputation for severity that his music fostered, sometimes referred to himself as a maximalist to stress the musical and philosophical distance between his style and the simpler, more direct style of younger contemporaries like Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other Minimalist composers. It was an apt description.

Although he dabbled early in his career with theater music, his Composition for Orchestra (1940) ushered in a structurally complex, profoundly organized style that was rooted in Arnold Schoenberg’s serial method.

But Mr. Babbitt expanded on Mr. Schoenberg’s approach. In Mr. Schoenberg’s system, a composer begins by arranging the 12 notes of the Western scale in a particular order called a tone row, or series, on which the work is based. Mr. Babbitt was the first to use this serial ordering not only with pitches but also with dynamics, timbre, duration, registration and other elements. His methods became the basis of the “total serialism” championed in the 1950s by Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono and other European composers.

Mr. Babbitt began exploring this path in Three Compositions for Piano (1947) and Composition for Four Instruments (1948), and adhered to it through his entire career. He composed prolifically for chamber ensembles and instrumental soloists and created a substantial and varied catalog of vocal works. He also composed a compact but vital group of orchestral pieces and an enduring series of works for synthesizer, often in combination with voices or acoustic instruments.

Mr. Babbitt liked to give his pieces colorful titles, often with puns (“The Joy of More Sextets,” for example), and said that in selecting titles he tried to avoid both the stale and the obscure. Yet when Mr. Babbitt explained his compositional approach in essays, lectures and program notes, they could be as difficult to understand as his music. In one program note, he spoke of “models of similar, interval-preserving, registrally uninterpreted pitch-class and metrically durationally uninterpreted time-point aggregate arrays.”

He often said in interviews that every note in a contemporary composition should be so thoroughly justified that the alteration of a tone color or a dynamic would ruin the work’s structure. And although colleagues who worked in atonal music objected when their music was described as cerebral or academic, Mr. Babbitt embraced both terms and came to be regarded as the standard-bearer of the ultrarational extreme in American composition.

That reputation was based in part on an article published by High Fidelity magazine in February 1958 under the title “Who Cares if You Listen?” The headline was often cited as evidence of contemporary composers’ disregard for the public’s sensibilities, and Mr. Babbitt objected that it had been added by an editor, without his permission. But whatever his objections, the article did argue that contemporary composition was a business for specialists, on both the composing and listening end of the transaction, and that the general public’s objections were irrelevant.

“Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity?” Mr. Babbitt wrote. “The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields.”

Listeners who overlooked Mr. Babbitt’s philosophical abstractions and thorny analyses — who simply sat back and listened, rather than trying to understand his harmonies and structural processes — often discovered works of great expressive variety.

These range from the intense emotionality of “A Solo Requiem” (1976) to the shimmering surfaces and eerie pictorialism of “Philomel” (1964) and the poetic flow of some of the solo piano works, which have the spirit of advanced jazz improvisations. Indeed, in his “All Set for Jazz” (1957), for winds, brasses and percussion, he achieved a freely improvisatory feeling within an atonal harmonic context.

Milton Byron Babbitt was born in Philadelphia on May 10, 1916, and grew up in Jackson, Miss. He began studying the violin when he was 4 but soon switched to clarinet and saxophone. Early in his life he was attracted to jazz and theater music.

He was making his own arrangements of popular songs at 7, and when he was 13, he won a local songwriting contest.

Although the music he went on to write rejected the easily assimilated tonal language of popular music, Mr. Babbitt retained a fondness for theater songs all his life and was said to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the style.

“If you know anybody who knows more popular music of the ’20s or ’30s than I do, I want to know who it is,” he said in an Internet interview with the New Music Box in 2001. “I grew up playing every kind of music in the world, and I know more pop music from the ’20s and ’30s, it’s because of where I grew up. We had to imitate Jan Garber one night; we had to imitate Jean Goldkette the next night. We heard everything from the radio; we had to do it all by ear. We took down their arrangements; we stole their arrangements; we transcribed them, approximately. We played them for a country club dance one night and for a high school dance the next.”

In 1946, Mr. Babbitt tried his hand at a musical, a collaboration with Richard Koch and Richard S. Childs called “Fabulous Voyage.” The work was not produced, but in 1982 Mr. Babbitt published three of its songs, which showed a firm command of the idiom and considerable charm.

But Mr. Babbitt set his course toward serious avant-garde composition in 1932, when he played through the scores of some Schoenberg piano music that an uncle had brought home from Europe. At the time, Mr. Babbitt was a 16-year-old philosophy student at the University of Pennsylvania. The next year he became a composition student of Marion Bauer and Philip James atNew York University, and in 1935 he began studying privately with Roger Sessions.

In 1938, Sessions invited Mr. Babbitt to join the Princeton composition faculty, and Mr. Babbitt succeeded him as the William Shubael Conant Professor of Music in 1965. Mr. Babbitt was also on the faculty of the Juilliard School, where he began teaching in 1973, as well as at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies; the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood; the new-music academy at Darmstadt, Germany; and the New England Conservatory in Boston. A series of six lectures he gave at theUniversity of Wisconsin was published as “Words About Music” in 1987. Mr. Babbitt’s articles about music were published as“The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt” by Princeton University Press in 2003.

His students included Mario Davidovsky and John Eaton, who have followed essentially in Mr. Babbitt’s atonal path (although Mr. Eaton later broke away), and the theater composer Stephen Sondheim.

During World War II, Mr. Babbitt taught mathematics at Princeton and undertook secret research in Washington. He also evolved his extended form of serialism during these years. But immediately after the war he pursued a split musical path, exploring his rigorous serial style in his abstract concert works, on one hand, and completing “Fabulous Voyage” and a film score, “Into the Ground” (1949).

In the 1950s Mr. Babbitt was hired as a consultant by RCA, which was developing the most sophisticated electronic-music instrument of the time, the Mark II synthesizer. The Mark II became the centerpiece of the new Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in 1959. Mr. Babbitt was one of the center’s first directors, along with Sessions, Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening.

Mr. Babbitt’s earliest electronic pieces, Composition for Synthesizer (1961) and Ensembles for Synthesizer (1964), were as intensely organized as his instrumental music had been. Indeed, he saw the synthesizer as a kind of liberation from the physical limitations of living performers.

“The medium provides a kind of full satisfaction for the composer,” he said in a 1969 interview with The New York Times. “I love going to the studio with my work in my head, realizing it while I am there and walking out with the tape under my arm. I can then send it anywhere in the world, knowing exactly how it will sound.”

The early synthesizer pieces have become classics, but Mr. Babbitt quickly moved forward, writing works in which electronic soundtracks accompanied live performers. Particularly striking are the vocal works “Vision and Prayer” (1961) and “Philomel,” and “Reflections” (1975) for piano and tape. He stopped composing music with an electronic component in 1976, when the Columbia-Princeton studio was vandalized, and it was decided that restoring it would be too expensive.

Many of Mr. Babbitt’s works have been recorded, and he has always had the loyalty of performers willing to devote the effort required to render his music sensibly. Among his earliest champions were the soprano Bethany Beardslee, for whom he wrote many of his vocal works (“A Solo Requiem” was written in memory of her husband, Godfrey Winham); the Juilliard String Quartet; the pianists Robert Miller and Robert Helps; the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble; and the Group of Contemporary Music.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a generation of young instrumentalists inured to the complexities of contemporary music became eloquent champions of Mr. Babbitt’s music . Among them are the pianists Robert Taub and the guitarist David Starobin, who have commissioned and recorded Mr. Babbitt’s works.

Mr. Babbitt’s orchestral music is so exceedingly complex that both the New York Philharmonic, in 1969, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, in 1989, postponed premieres when the available rehearsal time proved insufficient. He did, however, have champions among top-flight conductors, the most notable being James Levine, who in 1967, as a 24-year-old fledgling conductor, led the premiere of Mr. Babbitt’s “Correspondences.” Mr. Levine later recorded Mr. Babbitt’s music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and commissioned his Second Piano Concerto for the Met Orchestra and Mr. Taub in 1998. He regularly included Mr. Babbitt’s chamber works on his Met Chamber Ensemble programs, and in 2004 Mr. Babbitt dedicated his Concerti for Orchestra to Mr. Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned it.

Mr. Babbitt received a special Pulitzer citation for his life’s work in 1982, and in 1986 he was awarded a $300,000 MacArthur Fellowship. His earlier awards included the Joseph Bearns Prize from Columbia University, for his “Music for the Mass” in 1941; the New York Music Critics Circle Awards, for Composition for Four Instruments in 1949 and for “Philomel” in 1964; and the Creative Arts Award from Brandeis University in 1970. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1965.

Mr. Babbitt’s wife, Sylvia, died in 2005. He is survived by a daughter, Betty Anne Duggan, and two grandchildren, Julie and Adam.

De Radio Beethoven FM:

El músico dejó de existir a los 94 años tras una larga enfermedad. Babbitt compuso numerosas obras para medios electrónicos, mixtos e instrumentales. Entre sus composiciones más destacadas se cuenta “Philomel” para soprano y cinta magnética.

Desde hace varios años que Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) se veía aquejado en su salud. Luego de componer su última obra en el año 2006 (“An Encore” para violín y piano), el prestigioso compositor norteamericano dejó la vida activa en su arte, por problemas de salud derivados de su avanzada edad. Babbitt finalmente dejó de existir en la mañana del sábado 29 de enero del año 2011.

Procedente de Jackson, Mississippi, en sus inicios estudió clarinete, violín y saxofón, y desarrolló una fuerte pasión por el jazz, que lo acompañaría toda la vida. Hijo de un matemático, originalmente siguió los pasos de su progenitor para luego optar por la composición. Su profundo interés por los autores de la Segunda Escuela de Viena abrió sus ojos a las posibilidades que le ofrecía el serialismo.

Fue así que luego de estudiar con Roger Sessions, Babbitt empezó a aplicar sus conocimientos matemáticos en la composición. Esta exploración tuvo un breve paréntesis en 1946, cuando el joven compositor escribió un musical para Broadway, titulado “Fabolous Voyage”. Cabe decir, que Babbitt siempre se consideró un gran admirador del mundo de los musicales estadounidenses, y que fue mentor de Stephen Sondheim, uno de los principales autores del género.

En 1947 compusó “Three Compositions for Piano”, uno de los ejemplos más tempranos de lo que después se denominaría “serialismo total”. En los años '50, su ya mencionada pasión por el jazz lo llevó a colaborar con el movimiento denominado “Third Stream”, que aunaba este mundo musical junto con las técnicas de composición modernas. El aporte de Babbitt se llamó “All Set”, y bien podríamos hablar de esta pieza como “jazz serial”.

En 1961 Babbitt fue contratado por la RCA la como compositor consultor para trabajar con su RCA Mark II Synthesizer, lo que dio pie a su primera obra para el medio electrónico, titulada “Composition for Synthesizer”. El músico se fascinó por la infinita gama de timbres novedosos que el naciente medio de la música electrónica ofrecía a su disposición. El hito en esta dirección, sin embargo, fue la obra “Philomel” de 1964, en donde a la rigidez de los sonidos en cinta magnética, Babbitt agrega una voz solista (una soprano) en vivo, lo que sería un paso gigantezco a lo que hoy denominamos “música para medios mixtos”.

A contar de los años ’80, el interés de Babbitt por la electrónica se redujo considerablemente, prefiriendo los medios instrumentales para sus partituras. Es así como surgen gran cantidad de piezas orquestales, vocales y de cámara, incluyendo una numerosa cantidad de obras para instrumentos solos.

En 1982 Babbitt recibió una mención especial del prestigioso Premio Pulitzer, como “un distinguido y pionero compositor estadounidense”. En las últimas décadas, diversos honores enriquecieron su notable currículum y su catálogo de obras se engrosó con encargos provenientes de los más renombrados artistas del medio musical.

Nos ha dejado un pionero. Un artista que aportó de manera significativa a dos de los lenguajes musicales más determinantes de los últimos cien años: el serialismo y la música electroacústica.

Por Álvaro Gallegos M.


1 comment:

pablo lamarca said...

rip milton