Milton Babbitt

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Babbitt, Milton,

1916–2011, American composer, b. Philadelphia. Babbitt turned to music after studying mathematics. He studied composition with Roger SessionsSessions, Roger,
1896–1985, American composer and teacher, b. Brooklyn, N.Y. Sessions was a pupil of Horatio Parker at Yale and of Ernest Bloch. He taught (1917–21) at Smith, leaving to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music as Bloch's assistant.
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 at Princeton, and taught there from 1938 (emeritus from 1984). He was also on the faculty of Juilliard and several other music schools, and was associated with the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (now the Columbia Univ. Computer Music Center), which he helped to form in 1959.

In his exceedingly complex works, Babbitt attempted to apply twelve-tone principles to all the elements of composition: dynamics, timbre, duration, registration, and rhythm, as well as melody and harmony. He called this "total serialization" (see serial musicserial music,
the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale.
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). Babbitt composed many works for chamber ensembles and instrumental and vocal soloists. His works include Three Compositions for Piano (1947), three string quartets (1942, 1954, 1969–70), Composition for Synthesizer (1961), Ensembles for Synthesizer (1964), Philomel (1964) for soprano, taped soprano, and synthesizer, A Solo Requiem for soprano and piano, and Dual (1980) for cello and piano. In 1982 he received a special Pulitzer citation for his body of work.


See his Words about Music (1987) and The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt (2003); A. W. Mead, An Introduction to the Music of Milton Babbitt (1994).

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Babbitt, Milton (Byron)

(1916–  ) composer; born in Philadelphia. After studies in both music and mathematics, he joined the Princeton faculty in 1938 and remained there, teaching music and occasionally mathematics. He was among the leading proponents and theorists of serialism, a system of composition that uses mathematical techniques. His works, which often involved the use of electronic media, include Philomel for voice and tape (1964) and Sextets for violin and piano (1966).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.