Milton Babbit would have been a perfect hate figure for the Tee Party supporters in USA, had he published his famous essay "Who cares if you listen?" today. He was arguing that the lack of laymen listeners appreciation of advanced music which was -quoting Babbitt- "made by/for/to specialists," something inevitable, even welcome. He refuted the populistic call for truce between popular and specialist music "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music." There is only 'good' and 'bad' music." with this:
As a public service, let me offer those who still patiently await the revelation of the criteria of Absolute Good an alternative criterion which possesses, at least, the virtue of immediate and irrefutable applicability: "There is no such thing as 'serious' and 'popular' music. There is only music whose title begins with the letter 'X,' and music whose title does not."
He was an so-called "elitist", demanding that universities should fund this specialists' music.
Well, listening to the popular music I completely agree with him.
Born 10 May 1916 -yes we share the same birthday- in Philadelphia, he was already studying philosophy and mathematics when he was 16. He was also a music student, who was fascinated by the works of Arnold Schoenberg, which his uncle brought from Europe. He developed independently from Messiaen the composition approach Total Serialism, which can be considered the continuation or the finalization of Schoenebergs revolution. Three Compositions for Piano is his most famous piece from this era:
He was also influential in the establishment of the first electronic music center in USA, Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. His most famous electronic piece is Philomel:
He was productive until his last days. He passed away yesterday aged 94.
Links in this post:
- Who cares if you listen? http://www.palestrant.com/babbitt.html
- New York Times obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/arts/music/30babbitt.html?_r=1&ref=miltonbabbitt