Author Topic: The Babbitt Habit  (Read 9712 times)

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gomro

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The Babbitt Habit
« on: May 05, 2007, 04:41:42 PM »
Milton Babbitt is not a composer I'm very familiar with, but I recently picked up a recording of his Relata II and found it a quite bracing, quasi-Varesian excursion, not at all the serialist morse-code I expected from his reputation and the only other piece of his I know well, Composition for Synthesizer, which I have on a vinyl disc highlighting music from the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. That piece is not a highlight of the disc, imho, but I really like Relata II.

Anyone out there know enough Babbitt to recommend something else?

Offline Earthlight

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2007, 05:41:36 PM »
Robert Taub recorded a disc, Milton Babbitt Piano Works, for Harmonia Mundi. It's not in the Arkiv listing and so I assume it's OOP, but it's worth keeping an eye out for. I find a lot of the music on there refreshing and enjoyable -- kind of meditative in places, though maybe that's just me -- and not at all in keeping with his reputation for austerity and fun-deficiency.

I have another disc of his solo piano music, on CRI, but I left it in the truck and can't give you details at the moment. I'm somewhat less attracted to it. I've never heard any of his vocal music or SQs, nor Relata II for that matter.


Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2007, 08:21:41 AM »
If you enjoyed Relata II, then try Relata I available on this disc.


(click the CD)

Relata I and II were composed to be played separately or right after each other as one big piece.
I enjoy a lot of Babbitt's music.  I will recommend the piano CD with Taub mentioned above.  Reflections for Piano and Tape is probably my favorite piece.

One thing I have noticed while listening to his music is that I listen to it in almost the same way that I listen to minimalist music.  I don't listen to all the notes or try to hear everything, but I listen away from the music, letting it evolve on its own.  With both of those musics, I get the sense that I am traveling through some space.  They achieve this effect in completely different ways, though.  With minimalism, in its simple, hypnotic motion, you lose track of where you are in the music.  With Babbitt and other complex serialist composers, the music is just so complex, that you have to let go of the here and now, and just let it go on its own.  This revelation with Babbitt eventually let me hear so many other composers in a new light.

Now my question is, where did you find a recording of Relata II? I have been searching for a long time.

« Last Edit: May 06, 2007, 08:23:17 AM by Catison »
-Brett

springrite

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2007, 08:28:27 AM »
I have the Taub recording mentioned, and can recommend it highly. No, I do not have the CD, but a cassette tape that I got from BRO for 99c. I have it burned into a CD.

For those who have known Babbitt only by reputation, you should really give it a try. It is not as thorny as you may think it is. I find it quite enjoyable. I also have The Joy of Sex(tet) and Joy of More Sextet, as well as the None but the Lonely Flute CD by Catherine Stone which contain Babbitt pieces, all wonderfully enjoyable works!

Offline edward

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #4 on: May 06, 2007, 08:51:09 AM »
For a cheap Babbitt burst, there's the Naxos reissue of solo and duo works.

There's some good stuff in there, showing the generally light-hearted nature of much of his work.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

gomro

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2007, 11:29:40 AM »
If you enjoyed Relata II, then try Relata I available on this disc.


(click the CD)

Relata I and II were composed to be played separately or right after each other as one big piece.
I enjoy a lot of Babbitt's music.  I will recommend the piano CD with Taub mentioned above.  Reflections for Piano and Tape is probably my favorite piece.

One thing I have noticed while listening to his music is that I listen to it in almost the same way that I listen to minimalist music.  I don't listen to all the notes or try to hear everything, but I listen away from the music, letting it evolve on its own.  With both of those musics, I get the sense that I am traveling through some space.  They achieve this effect in completely different ways, though.  With minimalism, in its simple, hypnotic motion, you lose track of where you are in the music.  With Babbitt and other complex serialist composers, the music is just so complex, that you have to let go of the here and now, and just let it go on its own.  This revelation with Babbitt eventually let me hear so many other composers in a new light.

Now my question is, where did you find a recording of Relata II? I have been searching for a long time.



Agh! That's the disc I have,  -- I actually bought it for the Persichetti -- and I have no idea why I kept writing "II" when I meant "I".

Offline Brewski

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2007, 07:02:04 AM »
On Sunday I had a bit of a Babbitt epiphany: an experience that I liked, after years of hearing all sorts of his pieces that left me cold.  Soprano Judith Bettina sang The Head of the Bed (1981) with James Levine and the MET Chamber Ensemble.  The structure is pretty severe: 15 stanzas comprising 22 minutes of music, and the singer is "on," delivering an almost unbroken line pretty much the entire time, while various instrumental solos and duos weave in and out with her.  With its constricted pitch, meter and dynamic levels, the piece seems to have elements of minimalism, although it's probably heretical to mention that word and Babbitt in the same sentence. 

I have Bettina's recording of the piece (below) from the early 1990s, but never really liked it.  But on Sunday, I could feel my defenses lowering a bit, and when I just let my mind sink into the texture, enjoying Bettina's beautiful phrasing and the gorgeous instrumental contributions, somehow the whole thing worked. 

Now I want to revisit the recording (after a suitable break).



--Bruce
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johnQpublic

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2007, 09:35:30 AM »
Got it:



Got it:



But I still don't get it.

Seriously, Babbitt is about a tough a nut as they come. And I actually own a good bit more of him including that classic Columbia-Princeton LP since it was first issued. Maybe some day it will click; meanwhile Babbitt leaves cold and cornfused.


Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2007, 06:31:26 PM »
Would most people agree that Babbitt doesn't come off nearly as well on disc as he does in performance?  There is a spontaneity which is lost after the performance is recorded.  Some performers, like Taub, pull off a good recording.  But I would agree that most recordings of his music are a little flat.

I still love his music, though.
-Brett

bwv 1080

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2007, 07:44:20 PM »
The Taub piano recording is out of print, but posted in a flac file at the AG Project:

http://www.avantgardeproject.org/agp72/index.htm

Great stuff

Also will plug David Starobin's recording of Sheer Pluck/Composition for Guitar

Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2007, 08:06:23 PM »
The Taub piano recording is out of print, but posted in a flac file at the AG Project:

http://www.avantgardeproject.org/agp72/index.htm

Great stuff

Guess who that "devoted Babbitt aficionado in the USA" was...
-Brett

bwv 1080

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2007, 04:29:33 AM »
Guess who that "devoted Babbitt aficionado in the USA" was...

Cool, thanks

bwv 1080

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2007, 07:56:22 AM »
There is a good interview with Babbitt here
http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=1545

Responding to attacks on serialism:

Quote
they make no effort to understand or are perhaps incapable of understanding, I don't know. I don't know, I really don't know the answer to this. I could say all kinds of pretentious things about it, which I really don't want to say because the music is there. If they think the Schoenberg Fourth Quartet and the Violin Concerto—I just won't go beyond Schoenberg, because there's so much other music—or the Stravinsky Movements for Piano and Orchestra, all these pieces are to be damned, good, I'm glad to be among the damned. I can't say that without proof and I don't like to say things without something that approximates demonstration. They don't recognize the music. They don't recognize the beginning of the Schoenberg Orchestral Variations. Look, after all in my generation, no one was to the twelve-tone manner born. I mean, we suddenly encountered it, we were interested in learning the music, learning what was going on in the music, or we didn't. You know, so many different people came to it for so many different reasons. When Aaron Copland, I don't know how many people are even aware that now, ended up writing so-called serial—I'm saying so-called because the term is so misunderstood—but when he wrote serial music, I'll never forget, Aaron, and I'll call him Aaron, because I did call him Aaron, Aaron once said, you know, "twelve-tone music is this mathematical thing, no, it's not for me," and he said that. He said that publicly. And then, about ten years later, he began writing music, in fact to such an extent, I'll say in all lack of modesty, that he wanted me to write an article about his Piano Fantasy, which I did, but the magazine that asked for it went out of existence, the IMA magazine from England, which you probably never saw. But Aaron then said, "Oh my God, I discovered that by playing with these twelve-tone [whatever he called them, rows, probably], I found chords that I had never imagined before." Some people criticize, "What a superficial view of twelve-tone, he found chords he had never found before…" but I thought that was fine. For him, to satisfy the kind of interest that he would have. After all, he went to the Boulangerie, where you learn to slice and package and label chords, and here were chords that were not sliced and packaged and labeled in the Boulangerie! For him that was important; it wasn't important for some of us. So it has fulfilled all of these different needs for people as unlike as Copland and Sessions and Stravinsky. And that people could presume to be off-handed about anything that had this attraction for people of that caliber…don't ask.

 Babbitt is also a beer lover and talks at some length about it in the interview

bwv 1080

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2007, 08:08:52 AM »
Also, Babbitt's famous essay Who Cares if You Listen is available here

http://www.palestrant.com/babbitt.html

Quote
Like all communication, this music presupposes a suitably equipped receptor. am aware that "tradition" has it that the lay listener, by virtue of some undefined, transcendental faculty, always is able to arrive at a musical judgment absolute in its wisdom if not always permanent in its validity. regret my inability to accord this declaration of faith the respect due its advanced age.


Deviation from this tradition is bound to dismiss the contemporary music of which I have been talking into "isolation." Nor do I see how or why the situation should be otherwise. Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields. But to this, a double standard is invoked, with the words music is music," implying also that "music is just music." Why not, then, equate the activities of the radio repairman with those of the theoretical physicist, on the basis of the dictum that "physics is physics." It is not difficult to find statements like the following, from the New York Times of September 8, 1 957: "The scientific level of the conference is so high… that there are in the world only 120 mathematicians specializing in the field who could contribute." Specialized music on the other hand, far from signifying "height" of musical level, has been charged with "decadence," even as evidence of an insidious "conspiracy."

Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2007, 11:02:24 AM »
Also, Babbitt's famous essay Who Cares if You Listen is available here

http://www.palestrant.com/babbitt.html
 

Be a little careful, because that version isn't transcribed completely right.  I remember linking to it awhile ago and then being offput by the errors.  The website uses the High Fidelity version (the changed version), and perhaps that is why it is different.

I have the full version in a book.  I'll transcribe it sometime.  It would make an interesting discussion.
-Brett

Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #15 on: November 05, 2007, 11:05:59 AM »
There is a good interview with Babbitt here
http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=1545

Responding to attacks on serialism:

 Babbitt is also a beer lover and talks at some length about it in the interview

This article is pretty old, even ancient by Internet standards.  But I enjoy rereading it.  Babbitt has a way with words that is unlike any other composer, perhaps more like his music.  I wish they would have released the entire video, but 2001 was before there was enough bandwidth to make downloading full length videos feasible.

I also have a Koch recording in which Babbitt reads his essay, "On having been and still being an American composer".  It is a joy to listen to.

But this is the last I have heard from Babbitt.  Does anyone know what he has been up to lately?  Any recorded music newer than the Swan Song No. 1?
-Brett

Offline Brewski

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #16 on: November 05, 2007, 11:24:54 AM »
But this is the last I have heard from Babbitt.  Does anyone know what he has been up to lately?  Any recorded music newer than the Swan Song No. 1?

Can't definitively answer the question, but for what it's worth, his bio in the Carnegie Hall program from the performance of The Head of the Bed doesn't mention any current projects.

--Bruce
"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

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snyprrr

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #17 on: April 29, 2009, 04:12:45 PM »
Dear Julliard SQ,
       Remember that nice job you did with the Carter SQs? Hint hint.

Milton Babbitt: Complete String Quartets (Sony) by the Julliard Quartet. Come on, guys, doesn't that sound reasonable...come on!

Babbitt's SQs (2-6?) have that perfect computer/insect appeal that I love so much. Can't wait to hear Lejaren Hiller's SQ No.6 (1973). Anyone have a copy of Carter/Babbitt/Powell SQs on Music and Arts you want to get rid of?

I've been really turned off by Babbitt's orchestral work (Relata/ DG- just noisy), but the Piano Cto is for me, pure icy deliciousness.
And the Taub piano disc.



Offline Catison

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #18 on: May 07, 2009, 07:54:25 AM »
Anyone have a copy of Carter/Babbitt/Powell SQs on Music and Arts you want to get rid of?

I have this disc as a copy.  I can send you some flac files, as this disc is hopelessly out of print.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2009, 08:09:33 PM by Catison »
-Brett

karlhenning

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Re: The Babbitt Habit
« Reply #19 on: July 07, 2009, 02:56:58 AM »
Thread has a tendency to sink.

I have a tendency to try to float it.