Milton Babbitt

[taken from Jack Melby's seminar on Babbitt spring 1993]

(Jack Melby was a student of Babbitt)

Interesting Biographical Insights (according to Melby)

-considered to be a "post-Schoenberg" serialist (vs. post-Webern)

-involved w/ music perception-duration-mid to late '60's

-studied species counterpoint with Roger Sessions

-known for codifying, publicizing hexachordal combinatoriality

-wrote "Set Structure as a Compositional Determinant" in Score (1954-55) [British journal]; first article on combinatoriality (its implications); (available in typescript from Princeton)

"Who Cares If you Listen" = "The Composer as Specialist" - Hi Fidelity

main point has to do with 20th Century life -> specialization in all aspects of life, including serious music

check out PNM 1976 (Babbitt Festschrift)

Melby's Ramblings: various topics interspersed with baudy jokes

How does the idea of prolongation work in 12-tone music?

-has to do with rate at which harmonic completion of aggregates is unfolded

(aggregate is the 12 tone collection)

"the only step-wise motion in 12-tone music is the half-step":

"whole-step is a leap" -Melby/(Babbitt?)

structure -> series

series -> structure

Babbitt said he did both

see "Problems of Modern Music"-reprint of Musical Quarterly article

-Proceedings of Advanced Musical Studies '57-'58-Krenek article

Perceptual Problems of Properties of Music

-measurement-refers to an article by S.S. Stevens

-measure events in music, not in terms of absolute measurement, but how we perceive them

-Scaling: nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio

[simple -> -> complex]

nominal-is something or it isn't; doesn't quantify, compare; only names things; can be arranged in a particular order (timbre/tone color)

ordinal-assumes names, assumes comparison; doesn't specify

interval-how much?

ratios-we don't perceive things in terms of ratio

add constraints to:

pitch-most susceptible to organization (most organized tonal music)


rhythms is more organizational

-recognizes a basic set-ptime

-tonal music - mod 9


Schoenberg's Error

-all his music purported to be based on some error Schoenberg made

-comes from how people lisen to music: "musical bingo" -Judd Danby

Integration of rhythm with pitch

Boulez's 1a - ordered 12-tone set

-numbered orders 1-12; attach to each number is a duration 1/32

-1/16 2nd note . . . increments by 32nds

-ascending sets of durational values

-was not used in relationship to structure of pitch; for this reason, Melby regards this as an arbitrary system;

-crux has to do with 12-tone set: is not an ordered set

-rather, maintains invariable intervallie relationship

-led them (European serialists?) into complexities


-tonal music: themes-redundancy replaces idea of ordered system

-redundancy built into 12-tone system (intervallic)

-perceived as being based on a recognizable pattern

-necessity for themes therefore unnecessary


-subdividing a set

-in tonal music, the hierarchy of pitch structure

-one meaning is to partition a set into hexachords, tetrachords, tri-chords

-Melby calls this "segmentation"-chunks of adjacent elements

-segmentation is a type of partitioning

Ordered Set Partitions-a selection of certain elements

-pick out certain pitch classes, adjacent or not

-articulated as a melody or line, perhaps

-causes listener to hear structures that are not adjacent

-Schoenberg might make a statement of the series: "thematic structure"

-4th Quartet, Variations for Orchestra

-follow prime form with retrograde inversion (intervallic pivot)

-"theme" doesn't have to be a linear statement of the set

-first became conscious of combinatorial idea in Woodwind Quintet

-77 ways of partitioning

-see discussion for Composition for 4 Instruments

Unordered sets: Permutations

Babbitt's Compositions

3rd String Quartet (1969-70)

-concept of a derived set (from Webern)

-later-keeps same set, but articulates it in different ways

Composition for 12 Instruments

-uses series for durations

-Babbitt considered it to be his most problematic work

-found that duration is difficult to perceive

-had the idea of rhythmic duration [organization] prior to Messiaen's Modes de Velleur

-groups of attacks; attack patterns

-this led to the time point system

Composition for 4 Instruments

combines 2 simultaneous set forms in a single line,

separated by virtue of registral leaps

-distinguishes by using different registers, extreme; articulations (one as arco, one as pizz); dynamics, tone color; lengthen one note until next note comes in

-idea of compound line, expanded (a la Bach)

3 Compositions for Piano

-only mvt. 1 is rhythmically serialized: others aren't!