Milton Babbitt was an American composer, educator, and music theorist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the development of modern music. Born in 1916 in Philadelphia, Babbitt studied at New York University and Princeton University, where he later taught for many years. He is known for his complex and highly technical compositions, which often utilize avant-garde techniques.
In 1958, Babbitt published an article in the magazine High Fidelity titled "Who Cares if You Listen?" The article responded to the criticism that modern classical music was inaccessible to the general public and was only appreciated by a small, elite group of intellectuals. Babbitt argued that the purpose of music was not to entertain but to explore and experiment with new ideas and techniques. He believed that the audience's lack of understanding was not a failure of the music but rather a failure of education and cultural values.
The article caused a great deal of controversy and was met with both praise and condemnation. Some saw it as a call to arms for modern composers to continue to push the boundaries of music, while others saw it as elitist and dismissive of the general public. Babbitt himself was often criticized for his perceived arrogance and disregard for traditional musical values.
In an effort to offer some context to the kind of music that Babbit discusses in this influential article, the following are a few of his compositions.