Milton Babbitt


Three Compositions for Piano (1947)

structural features:

1) all-combinatorial set:

P with transpositoins of itself (P0/P6, mm. 1-2;

P with I (P0/I1 = R0/RI1, mm. 2-4)

I with R (I1/R6, mm. 7-8)

P with R (equivalent to I7/RI7, mm. 5-6)

2) use of durational sets: P = 5, 1, 4, 2;

R=2, 4, 1, 5;

I = 1, 5, 2, 4;

RI = 4, 2, 5, 1

• integer identifies number of sixteenth-notes that occur before a longer note or a rest intervenes to signal pattern closure; associations of durational sets conforms with pitch sets

3) dynamic leavels associated with serials forms: mp with P; mf with R; f with I; p with RI.

4) registral choices determined by serial procedure

Composition for 12 Instruments (1948, rev. 1954)

• extended technique to use of "chromatic" duration scale of Messiaen

• dissatisfied with incompatibilities of serial procedures used for pitch and rhythm led to the idea of "time oint" in 1957; various note values are identified by thier positoin at the point of attack within the bar; need for clear and audible metric organizatino is acute if such an organization is to be perceived by the listener; uses idea in All Set

"Some Aspects of 12-tone Composition"

• clarifies combinatorial principles, derived from study of Schoenberg’s works;

• derivative sets;

• answers European serialists for failing to note implications of the classics of serial repertoire

• can be considered a response to Boulez’s "Schoenberg is Dead"

"Who Cares If You Listen?"

• states implications of serialism not only as a compositional ideal but as a performer-listener challenge

• makes 4 points relevant to music of his domain:

1) music is more efficient, reducing "redundancy" of language; demands more of performer and listener;

2) total serialization creates a interrelational structures; failure to perform or perceive values correctly will lead to false identification of other elements;

3) piece-specific work structure; performer/listener has less to draw upon in their experience

4) more responsibility is placed upon performer/listener to understand constructional basis


Articles/Books that relate to 20th C Music Composition

Josef Rufer-Composition with 12 Tones

Hindemith-The Craft of Musical Composition

Schoenberg-Style & Idea

Karlheinz Stockhausen-How Time Passes

Milton Babbitt-Some Aspects of 12-Tone Composition

Milton Babbitt-Who Cares If You Listen

Miton Babbitt-12-Tone Structure As a Compositional Determinant

Milton Babbitt-Twelve-Tone Rhythmic Structure and the Electronic Medium

John Cage-Silence

Stravinsky-The Poetics of Music

G. Rochberg-The Aesthetics of Survival

Luigi Russolo-The Art of Noises



• exhaustive survey of properties of overtone series; recommends a theory based upon chromatic scale; chromatic scale is in turn constructed with intervals measured by the proportions of the overtone series, rather than through mathematical division of the octave; notes peculiar properties of the 7th overtone

• presents his theory of tone significance; ranks them; criticizes systems that he feels are based on a lack of understanding of the tones

• interest in a rational order for harmony and melody led to his theory, that contains two important points:

1) 12 degrees of chromatic scale have an innate hierarchical relationship based on acoustic principles of overtone series; they demonstrate a diminishing relationship to the first note in the series:

7, 5, 9, 4, 3, 8, 2, 10, 1, 11, 6

2) harmonic intervals may be similarly grouped in invertible pairs (except octave and tritone)