By Penny Johnson, Contributing Author
A pioneer in the field of total serialism and an enthusiast of synthesized sounds, the American avant-garde composer and teacher, Milton Babbitt, passed away on January 29, 2011 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was ninety-four years old.
Commencing his academic studies in the field of mathematics in 1931 at the University of Pennsylvania, Babbitt turned his attention shortly thereafter to music, where as a student at New York University, he became interested in the music of the Second Viennese School. Rooted in the twelve-tone style espoused by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg, Babbitt elevated this rational compositional process – one which uses a prescribed ordering of the twelve pitches – to a degree at which every aspect of a composition (dynamics, timbre, duration and registration) is subjected to the same rigorous principles of ordering. Composers such as Pierre Boulez (Laureate of The Sixth Glenn Gould Prize) and Luigi Nono later adopted the total serialist principles explored by Babbitt.