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Milton Babbitt

Biography

Born: May 10, 1916; Philadelphia, PA   Died: January 29, 2011; Princeton, NJ  
Revered for his pioneering work in serial organization and in musical electronics, Milton Babbitt (born in 1916) is a major American composer, theorist, and teacher. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Jackson, MS, he began his study of the violin at age 4. He later learned to play clarinet and saxophone, exhibiting an early interest in jazz and popular song.

Despite his gift for music, he attended the University of Pennsylvania to
Read more pursue a career in mathematics. He then decided to attend New York University, studying music with Marion Bauer and Philip James. Babbitt was attracted to the epochal discoveries of Schoenberg, at a time when 12-tone and serial techniques were still relatively new. After receiving a B.A. from NYU in 1935, he studied composition with Roger Sessions, at first privately, and then later at Princeton University, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in 1942. During World War II he worked as a mathematical researcher and taught mathematics at Princeton. At this time he developed the complex ramifications of Schoenberg's twelve-tone compositional method into what came to be known as total serialism. In a nutshell, what this meant was that he expanded Schoenberg's twelve-tone system, wherein compositional structure is determined by manipulation of a constant sequence of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale -- to other aspects of music: rhythm, dynamics, timbre, and other parameters were structured according to fixed sequences that acquired structural importance both in being manipulated on their own and in interaction with other serial parameters. He succeeded Sessions on Princeton's music faculty in 1948 and later taught also at the Juilliard School in New York.

Babbitt is credited with writing the first serial work, Three Compositions for Piano, in 1947, at least one year before Messiaen's studies. Babbitt's important early works in his rigorously organized serial style include the first two string quartets (1948, 1954), the jazz-influenced All Set (1957) and Partitions for piano (1957). Babbitt is also responsible for developing and classifying such important serialist concepts as combinatoriality, partitioning, arrays, pitch class, pitch set, and the time-point system. In extending the challenging language of Schoenberg, Babbitt's "new complexity" continually met with incomprehension from audiences and musicians alike. This led Babbitt to seek means of composing and performing outside of traditional settings and formats. He found what he was looking for in the emerging analog technology of the RCA Mark II synthesizer and the Columbia-Princeton recording studio, which he co-founded with Otto Luening and Vladimir Ussachevsky in 1959. One year later, Babbitt completed his first entirely synthesized work, Vision and Prayer. Philomel (1964) shows his use of the human voice as an essential part of his conception; it was one of the earliest pieces to combine tape playback with a live performance, in this case one by Babbitt's wife, soprano Bethany Beardslee.

Later works such as Post-Partitions for piano (1966) and Relata II for orchestra (1968), show Babbitt's increasingly dense modes of musical significance, achieved through close connections between pitch and rhythmic organization, and through the use of every possible musical parameter in delineating structure. The String Quartet No. 3 (1970) includes metronomic stability, changes of velocity engineered by changes in metrical density, sectional form, and the use of many other musical parameters -- including the distinction between arco and pizzicato string playing -- to integrate the polyphony. Performances of these works have rarely been successful, if even possible.

In addition to his degrees from NYU and Princeton, Babbitt has received a lifetime Pulitzer Prize in composition for his contributions to twelve-tone and electronic music. He has also been recognized by numerous universities for his contributions. Babbitt, who once named Jerome Kern as the composer with whom he would most like to have traded places, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Read less
Browse 1-25 of 48 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 3268 Release Date: 03/18/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Bülent Arel,  Halim El-Dabh,  Vladimir Ussachevsky,  Milton Babbitt  ... 
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  • 2.
    American Masterpieces for Solo Percussion
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1471 Release Date: 02/11/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt,  John Cage
    Performer:  Thomas Kolor
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  • 3.
    Milton Babbit: All Set
    Label: Bmop/Sound   Catalog: 1034 Release Date: 01/14/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt
    Performer:  Lucy Shelton
    Conductor:  Gil Rose
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Modern Orchestra Project
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  • 4.
    When Still: New Music For Vibraphone / Zeca Lacerda
    Label: Soundset   Catalog: 1051 Release Date: 11/12/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Stuart Saunders Smith,  Karlheinz Stockhausen,  Thomas DeLio,  Jeff Herriott  ... 
    Performer:  Zeca Lacerda
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  • 5.
    Celebrating The American Spirit / Clurman, Essential Voices USA
    Label: Sono Luminus   Catalog: 92162 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Michael Gilberston,  Jake Heggie,  Stephen Paulus,  Leonard Bernstein  ... 
    Performer:  Ron Raines,  Kelli O’hara
    Conductor:  Judith Clurman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Essential Voices USA
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  • 6.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 6016 Release Date: 08/01/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt,  Ralph Shapey,  Vincent Persichetti,  Robert Pollock  ... 
    Performer:  John Graham,  Robert Black,  Thomas Muraco
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  • 7.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 499 Release Date: 05/01/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt,  Anthony Korf,  Donald Martino
    Performer:  Dennis Smylie
    Conductor:  Anthony Korf
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Parnassus
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  • 8.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 461 Release Date: 04/01/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Leon Kirchner,  Seymour Shifrin,  Milton Babbitt,  Béla Bartók
    Performer:  Robert Taub
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  • 9.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 268 Release Date: 09/01/2010   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Edgard Varèse,  Otto Luening,  Milton Babbitt,  Vladimir Ussachevsky  ... 
    Performer:  Bethany Beardslee,  Donald Marcone,  Richard Fitz,  Raymond Des Roches  ... 
    Conductor:  Charles Wuorinen,  Harvey Sollberger
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Group for Contemporary Music
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  • 10.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 138 Release Date: 04/01/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt,  John Bavicchi
    Performer:  Stanley Drucker,  John Wummer,  Peter Marsh,  Donald McCall  ... 
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  • 11.
    Feldman, Babbitt: Clarinet Quintets / Mark Lieb, Et Al
    Label: Innova   Catalog: 746 Release Date: 07/07/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Morton Feldman,  Milton Babbitt
    Performer:  Mark Lieb
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Phoenix Ensemble
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  • 12.
    The Noble Snare
    Label: Smith Publications   Catalog: 5637215862 Release Date: 01/23/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Stuart Saunders Smith,  Milton Babbitt,  Barney Childs,  Eugene Novotney  ... 
    Performer:  Jason Baker
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  • 13.
    Scene Hommage A August Stramm - Schleiermacher, Heisig, Rihm, Vogel, Babbitt, Barlow, Etc
    Label: Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog: 6131496 Release Date: 05/27/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Steffen Reinhold,  Georg Lewin,  Wladimir Vogel,  Milton Babbitt  ... 
    Performer:  Hildegard Wiedemann,  Steffen Schleiermacher,  Wolfgang Heisig,  Holger Falk  ... 
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  • 14.
    The American Innovator - Alan Feinberg
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 436925 Release Date: 10/31/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Thelonious Monk,  Ralph Shapey,  Charles Tomlinson Griffes,  Charles Ives  ... 
    Performer:  Alan Feinberg
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  • 15.
    Cage, Carter, Babbitt, Schuller / Levine, Chicago SO
    Label: Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog: 431698 Release Date: 08/29/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Elliott Carter,  Gunther Schuller,  Milton Babbitt,  John Cage
    Conductor:  James Levine
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Symphony Orchestra
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  • 16.
    New Electronic Music From Leaders Of The Avant-garde - Cage, Babbitt, Pousseur
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 78 Release Date: 08/20/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt,  John Cage,  Henri Pousseur
    Performer:  David Tudor
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  • 17.
    Songs And Encores - A Recital Of American Song
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9199 Release Date: 11/21/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  David Rakowski,  Mel Powell,  Tobias Picker,  Chester Biscardi  ... 
    Performer:  James Goldsworthy,  Judith Bettina,  Curtis Macomber,  Thomas Kolor
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  • 18.
    Gone For Foreign  - Anderson, Naito, Et Al / Cygnus Ensemble
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9195 Release Date: 06/06/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  David Claman,  William Anderson,  Akemi Naito,  Rolv Yttrehus  ... 
    Performer:  Tara Helen O'Connor,  Calvin Wiersma,  Robert Ingliss,  Susannah Chapman  ... 
    Conductor:  Jeffrey Milarsky
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cygnus Ensemble
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  • 19.
    In Transit - Albright, Babbitt, Et Al / Mcallister, Goodson
    Label: Innova   Catalog: 652 Release Date: 04/11/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Mischa Zupko,  Milton Babbitt,  William Albright,  Roshanne Etezady  ... 
    Performer:  Kathryn Goodson,  Timothy McAllister
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  • 20.
    American Classics - Babbitt: Soli E Duettini
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559259 Release Date: 03/21/2006   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt
    Performer:  William Purvis,  Charles Abramovic,  Marshall Taylor,  Rachel Rudich  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Group for Contemporary Music
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  • 21.
    Franck, Milhaud, Dvorak, Etc - A Viola Treasury / Zaslav Duo
    Label: Music & Arts Programs Of America   Catalog: 1151 Release Date: 05/31/2005   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Antonín Dvorák,  Milton Babbitt,  Ernest Bloch,  Darius Milhaud  ... 
    Performer:  Bernard Zaslav,  Naomi Zaslav
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zaslav Duo
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  • 22.
    New Waltzes For Piano / Eric Moe
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 689 Release Date: 11/30/2004   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ronald Caltabiano,  Anthony Cornicello,  Virgil Thomson,  Matthew Rosenblum  ... 
    Performer:  Eric Moe
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  • 23.
    Babbitt: Swan Song No 1, Soli E Duetini, Manifold Music, Etc
    Label: Bridge   Catalog: 9135 Release Date: 10/28/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt
    Performer:  Allen Blustine,  Gregory D'Agostino,  Charles Neidich,  Ayako Oshima  ... 
    Conductor:  Jeffrey Milarsky
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cygnus Ensemble
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  • 24.
    Babbitt - Occasional Variations / Composers String Quartet
    Label: Tzadik   Catalog: 7088 Release Date: 07/22/2003   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Milton Babbitt
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Composers String Quartet
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  • 25.
    Sessions, Wolpe, Babbitt: String Quartets /Juilliard Quartet
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 587 Release Date: 11/29/2002   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Roger Sessions,  Stefan Wolpe,  Milton Babbitt
    Performer:  Robert Mann,  Joel Smirnoff,  Samuel Rhodes,  Joel Krosnick
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Juilliard String Quartet
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