Dead, Milton Byron Babbitt on January 29, 2011, he was an American composer, music theorist, and teacher.
Born in Philadelphia to Albert E. Babbitt and Sarah Potamkin on May 10, 1916 he was Jewish.
He was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and began studying the violin when he was four 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 seven, and when he was thirteen, he won a local songwriting contest (Kozinn 2011).
Babbitt’s father was a mathematician, and it was mathematics that Babbitt intended to study when he entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1931.
However, he soon left and went to New York University instead, where he studied music with Philip James and Marion Bauer.
There he became interested in the music of the composers of the Second Viennese School and went on to write a number of articles on twelve tone music, including the first description of combinatoriality and a serial “time-point” technique.
After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from New York University College of Arts and Science in 1935 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, he studied under Roger Sessions, first privately and then later at Princeton University.
At the university, he joined the music faculty in 1938 and received one of Princeton’s first Master of Fine Arts degrees in 1942 (Barkin & Brody 2001).
Babbitt’s Composition for Synthesizer (1961) displayed his interest in establishing precise control over all elements of composition; the machine is used primarily to achieve such control rather than solely to generate novel sounds. Philomel (1964) combines synthesizer with the voice, both live and recorded, of a soprano.
More traditional in medium is Partitions for Piano (1957).
Babbitt wrote chamber music (Composition for Four Instruments, 1948; All Set, 1957) as well as solo pieces and orchestral works.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Babbitt continued to use serialist techniques in his later works, which include Arie da capo (1974), The Head of the Bed (1982), Swan Song No. 1 (2003), and An Encore (2006; commissioned by the Library of Congress) for violin and piano, among other compositions for small ensembles; solo pieces, such as Play It Again, Sam (1989; written as a viola solo for Samuel Rhodes) and More Melismata (2005–06; commissioned by the Juilliard School) for cello; and Concerti for Orchestra (2004) and several other pieces for larger groups.
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.