Milton Babbitt

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Milton Babbitt (May 10, 1916January 29, 2011) was an American composer. He is particularly noted for his pioneering serial and electronic music.

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  • "I can't believe that people really prefer to go to the concert hall under intellectually trying, socially trying, physically trying conditions, unable to repeat something they have missed, when they can sit at home under the most comfortable and stimulating circumstances and hear it as they want to hear it. I can't imagine what would happen to literature today if one were obliged to congregate in an unpleasant hall and read novels projected on a screen." See: recording Quoted in Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music, ISBN 0028645812.
  • "Somebody will ask those of us who compose with the aid of computers: 'So you make all these decisions for the computer or the electronic medium but wouldn't you like to have a performer who makes certain other decisions?' Many composers don't mind collaborating with the performer with regards to decisions of tempo, or rhythm, or dynamics, or timbre, but ask them if they would allow the performer to make decisions with regard to pitch and the answer will be 'Pitches you don't change.' Some of us feel the same way in regard to the other musical aspects that are traditionally considered secondary, but which we consider fundamental. As for the future of electronic music, it seems quite obvious to me that its unique resources guarantee its use, because it has shifted the boundaries of music away from the limitations of the acoustical instrument, of the performer's coordinating capabilities, to the almost infinite limitations of the electronic instrument. The new limitations are the human ones of perception." Quoted in Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music, ISBN 0028645812.
  • "We have all been affected as composers, as teachers, as musicians by recordings to an extent that cannot possibly be calculated as yet or predicted for the future. The music which is being most widely disseminated and most widely discussed, and therefore most widely imitated and influential, is that music which is available on records. The music that is only published is very little known. I don't think one can possibly exaggerate the extent to which the climate of music today is determined by the fact that the total Webern is available on records, that the total Schoenberg is becoming available." Quoted in Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music, ISBN 0028645812.
  • "Naturally, since I am not concerned with normative allegations, I cannot be concerned here with the invocation of the overtone series as a 'natural' phenomenon, and that application of equivocation which then would label as 'un-natural' (in the sense, it would appear, of morally perverse) music which is not 'founded' on it. Now, what music, in what sense, ever had been founded on it?"
    • Quoted in Maus, Fred Everett (2004). "Sexual and Musical Categories", The Pleasure of Modernist Music, p. 158. ISBN 1580461433.
  • "The issue of 'science' does not intrude itself directly upon the occasion of the performance of a musical work, at least a non-electronically produced work, since—as has been said—there is at least a question as to whether the question as to whether musical composition is to be regarded as a science or not is indeed really a question; but there is no doubt that the question as to whether musical discourse or—more precisely—the theory of music should be subject to the methodological criteria of scientific method and the attendant scientific language is a question, except that the question is really not the normative one of whether it 'should be' or 'must be,' but the factual one that it is, not because of the nature of musical theory, but because of the nature and scope of scientific method and language, whose domain of application is such that if it is not extensible to musical theory, then musical theory is not a theory in any sense in which the term ever has been employed. This should sound neither contentious nor portentous, rather it should be obvious to the point of virtual tautology.”
    • From Milton Babbitt, "The Structure and Function of Musical Theory", College Music Symposium, Vol. 5 (Fall 1965), pp. 49-60; reprinted in Perspectives on Contemporary Music Theory, ed. Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone (New York: Norton, 1972), pp. 10-21, ISBN 0393005488, and in Milton Babbitt, The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt, ed. Stephen Peles, with Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, and Joseph N. Straus (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), pp. 191-201, ISBN 0691089663.
  • This compositional variety is mediated by a highly redundant set structure, a second-order all-combinatorial set; each set form is hexachordally equivalent to or totally disjunct from fifteen other set forms, so that one-third of all the available set forms belong to a collection of sets which are hexachordally aggregate forming, that is, hexachordally identical.
    • On Igor Stravinsky's Movements. Perspectives of new music, Spring-Summer 1964

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