Milton Bryon Babbitt was born on May 10, 1916, in Philadelphia. His father was a mathematician. Milton Babbitt grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, learning to play the violin at age four and later he learned to play the clarinet and saxophone. When he was just fifteen years old, he graduated high school, and was a jazz musician and pop music composer.
In 1931, Babbitt enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania with the intention of studying mathematics as his father did. However, music interested him more, so he transferred to New York University where he studied composition with Roger Sessions. Babbitt has earned degrees from New York University in music in 1935 and Princeton in music in 1942 ("Symposium in Honor of Milton Babbitt").
Babbitt is a theorist and composer ("Smith Archives") whose works for instruments and accomplishments in synthesized sound have made him one of the most recognized composers of the 20th century. He has great talent and an instinct for jazz and other American popular music He has taught at Princeton and The Juilliard School. He founded the Committee of Direction for the Electronic Music Center of Columbia-Princeton Universities and has been awarded many honors including a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize Citation for his "life's work as a distinguished and seminal American composer." Milton Babbitt is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a part of the American Academy of Arts. He has had a major impact on the works of contemporary musicians. (Schirmer, G.). Babbitt once said, "I want a piece of music to be literally as much as possible ("Smith Archives").
Babbitt is a leading composer of serialization (the use of predetermined series of pitches, rhythms, tone colors, and durations.) This is the start for the composition of music. His work contains the order of twelve tones in the vertical and linear succession. Two Sonnets for baritone, viola, clarinet, and cello create a parallel between the rhyme scheme and serial employed. The Third Quartet shows features of metronomic stability. Babbitt believes that a serious composer would accept his isolation from the public as a way of functioning and should help to develop the resources of his art in his work not suitable for most listeners. ("Babbitt, Milton Bryon").
His early influences included Webern and Schoenberg. Babbitt wanted to have control of every aspect of his compositions in a serialization of 12 tones, 12 dynamic levels, 12 note values, 12 instrumental timbres, and 12 time intervals. He compares the 20th century serialization of music as a revolution equal to the 20th century revolution in physics. Milton Babbitt wrote the article, "Who Cares If You Listen?" dealing with a composer as a writer of music that the general public does not understand or even want to understand (Arnold, C.).
Babbitt is a great composer and accomplished man who still works with serialization today. Milton Babbitt once said, "I am concerned with stating an attitude towards the indisputable facts of the status and condition of the composer of what we will, for the moment, designate as 'serious,' 'advanced,' contemporary music. This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy -- and, usually, considerable money -- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a 'vanity' composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly-attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow professionals. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists." (Arnold, C.). Nevertheless, the compositionalÂ and intellectual wisdom of Milton Babbitt has influenced a wide range of contemporary musicians. His All Set, for jazz ensemble, reveals an extraordinary compositional flexibility, uniquely American and vintage Babbitt.
In May, 1998, there was a symposium in honor of Milton Babbitt in the Coolidge Auditorium of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Babbitt has been a friend of the Music Division in the Library of Congress for many years and has served on the Coolidge Foundation Committee. Some of his works have been shown at the Library and show insight into many of the most important developments in music. The purpose of the symposium in his honor was to acknowledge those developments. ("Symposium in Honor of Milton Babbitt.").
Babbit died in 2011.