Babbitt a composer who embraced extremes

Posted on: February 3, 2011

In Thursday’s (2/3) Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed writes, “It is easy and commonplace to think of Milton Babbitt, who died on Saturday at 94, as a composer of unfathomable contradictions. He wrote formidable music of unprecedented structural complexity yet had a background in jazz and popular music of the ‘20s and ‘30s and an encyclopedic knowledge of Tin Pan Alley songs. He became known for an essay published in 1958 as ‘Who Cares if You Listen?’ (not his title), yet he cared so much for the listener that he devoted his life to ‘enhancing’ listening, to expanding what the ear could hear and apprehend, and to giving of our most sensitive sense organ an evolutionary shove. … Since nothing about Babbitt’s mind, work or being was easy or commonplace, these different sides were not, in fact, contradictions. They were representations of a complete mind, a complete composer, a complete man. Babbitt didn’t oscillate between opposites, he encompassed them. Yet of all the great American composers, he was and continues to be the hardest sell. … Of today’s big-name performers, James Levine alone is a Babbitt champion. Six years ago, during his first season as music director of the Boston Symphony, Levine commissioned Babbitt’s last orchestral work, ‘Concerti for Orchestra,’ a gorgeous piece of gossamer textures, delicately dancing figures and kaleidoscopic colors.”

Posted February 3, 2011