Saturday saw the passing of controversial composer, music theorist, and educator Milton Babbitt at the age of 94. He was a father of modern electronic music, a founder of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, and the primary user of the RCA Mark II synthesizer, a gigantic instrument that was first installed at the Center in 1959. His 1961 composition â€śMusic for Synthesizerâ€? was particularly groundbreaking, and he often combined recorded electronics with more traditional live performers.
Born in Philadelphia in 1916 and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Babbitt joined Princeton Universityâ€™s mathematics faculty in 1943 and its music faculty five years later. His students included composers Stephen Sondheim, John Eaton, Paul Lansky, and Mario Davidovsky. Among his many awards were a Pulitzer Prize citation for his â€ślifeâ€™s work as a distinguished and seminal American composerâ€? in 1982 and a $300,000 McArthur â€śGeniusâ€? Fellowship in 1986. He often took a mathematical approach to composing difficult and complex music, a style he sometimes referred to as â€śmaximalist.â€? His immeasurable contributions to serial and atonal music, avant-garde, jazz, and even musical theater cannot be overstated.
You can watch a recently completed documentary on Milton Babbitt here.