American composer and pioneer of electronic music passes away at the age of 94.

In 1958 the composer Milton Babbitt, who has died in Princeton, New Jersey aged 94, wrote an article for High Fidelitymagazine arguing that music had now evolved into a quasi-science which “the normally well-educated man without special preparation” could hardly be expected to understand. Like philosophy, physics and advanced mathematics, Babbitt said, music deserved support as a purely academic pursuit. He called his article ‘The Composer As Specialist’, but was appalled when High Fidelityran it with the more emotive title ‘Who Cares If You Listen?’ Babbitt’s reputation as the Ivory Tower composer’s Ivory Tower composer, whose sole purpose in life was to write music nobody wanted to hear – who had taken everything from Schoenberg and Webern’s serialism except their emotional, poetic core – was sealed by the fancy of a sub-editor’s pencil.

But the reality was different: Babbitt loved jazz, he adored Broadway shows and beer, and exhibited amusingly geeky, John Motson-like tendencies for baseball stats. He simply wasn’t the unfeeling academic his detractors liked to presume, despite his long tenure as professor at Princeton University. I suspect many more people disliked...

This article is available to Limelight subscribers.

Log in to continue reading.

Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism.

Subscribe now