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The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt Paperback – June 24, 2012

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691155402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691155401
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #613,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A car won't run unless it's engineered correctly, and the same applies to a piece of music. And Babbit always insists that the whole point of structure in music is that it can be heard: you may have to listen at full stretch, but it will be worth it. Rather like this book--difficult stuff, but intellectually rigorous and undeniably honest."--Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine

"It's the book's role as an encapsulation of Babbitt's formalistic way of thinking about music which matters, and this is rendered suitably ambiguous by an intriguing disparity in the types of essay included. These veer between the extremes of the coolly technical and the warmly biographical (and autobiographical). We might not get Babbitt's views on what compositions represent in terms of emotion or feeling, but there is plenty of vivid characterization when it comes to people and places."--Arnold Whittall, Musical Times

"Milton Babbitt's musical world is not a simple one. . . . That's also true of Babbitt's written output. . . . But it's witty too, as you'd expect from the composer of such titles as Joy Of Sextets."--Andy Hamilton, The Wire

"Milton Babbitt, at eighty-nine, has been handsomely, if belatedly, served by this collection of forty-three essays testifying to his seminal presence in musical history. . . . Overall the enterprise is a fine assemblage of scattered writings which will surprise even aficionados by its range."--Jonathan Harvey, Times Literary Supplement

From the Inside Flap

"The time is eminently ripe--indeed past due--for a collection of the writings of Milton Babbitt."--Elaine Barkin, University of California, Los Angeles

"Babbitt is one of the principal makers of postwar musical thought and expression, whose importance for musical composition, theory, and pedagogy in the United States is beyond that of any other individual. This anthology of his writings will stand as a major monument of late twentieth-century musical thought and history."--Benjamin Boretz, Bard College

"Milton Babbitt's influence on American musical composition has been both enormously significant and highly controversial--two excellent reasons for assembling his writings, previously scattered and difficult to locate, into a single volume. Anyone studying or writing about twentieth-century music--in its technical, philosophical, or sociological aspects--will have to deal with parts or all of this invaluable collection."--David Hamilton, The Julliard School

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steward Willons TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Babbitt always inspires debate, especially amongst musicians and theorists: is he a bold radical, is his music sterile, is he the future, is he ruining music? Who can say? Ultimately, you'll need to make up your own mind and what better way to do that then with this handsome edition! I've read six or seven thus far and have formed the basis for a number of conclusions.

I believe Babbitt was a brilliant theorist and his work with pitch class theory was seminal in developing serial music. However, his music seems to lack something when I listen to it. It's mathematically complex, formally advanced, and fascinating to analyze; but it doesn't seem to have the passion of Berg or the beautiful mixture of formal perfection and expressive texture of Webern. While I don't particularly "enjoy" his music, I completely respect his ideas and I know music has benefitted from his work.

The only reason for the digression on my take on Babbitt is because I formed this opinions reading his work and listening to his music. I would encourage everyone who his passionate about 20th century music to give Babbitt a chance: read what he has to say about music - it's profound. If you don't like his music, simply consider his ideas and you will see how they are at work in many current composers.

Before I wrap this up, a few words on his style: Babbitt's prose is unwieldy to say the least - half page sentences, needlessly complex sentence structures, awkward wordings, it's all here. I've read widely in aesthetics, philosophy, and musicology and one can quickly tell when a complex style is necessary (Lacan or Deleuze) and when it's the fault of the writer (Hegel never claimed to be a good writer!).
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Format: Hardcover
No serious student or devotee of music should be lacking a copy of this book in their collection! This is one of the most important collections of writings on serious music to date, alongside George Perle's THE RIGHT NOTES and Elliott Carter's COLLECTED ESSAYS & LECTURES, 1937-1995. The annotations by two leading Babbitt scholars are first rate, as Babbitt's thought provoking insights reveal an extraordinary musical intellect at work, corroborating once again his status as one of the most important musical figures of our time with just that right combination of heart and brain. Just one caveat, though: I only wish the book had included Babbitt's doctoral dissertation THE FUNCTION OF SET STRUCTURE IN THE TWELVE-TONE SYSTEM, written in 1946 but not published until 1992. Though this seminal work is gratefully available from UMI, the print is very hard to make out. Including this 1946 classic text fully annotated into the main body of this new book would have made it the ultimate 'perfect book'.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Zachary Bernstein on November 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A great deal of these essays form the basis for current intellectual music thought: the five great twelve-tone essays, the Stravinsky verticals essay, 'Contemporary music theory as contemporary intellectual history,' and 'The Structure and Function of Music Theory' should be required reading for anyone even considering applying the label of 'composer,' 'theorist,' or 'musician' to themselves. Many of the other essays provide fascinating insight into a whole variety of musical, musico-sociological, and musico-philosophical issues, including the place of the composer in society, the perceptual issues raised by the electronic medium, biographical insights into a myriad of Babbitt's contemporaries, and, most critically, the reason for and role of precise speech in musical discourse. Babbitt's virtuosic use of such precise language, as mentioned above, can make for slow reading. Familiarity with these essays makes one realize that Babbitt's control of language, even if a little opaque at times, makes his writing more powerful, more accurate, and more musical. I can't recommend this book higher; these essays changed my life and they've changed Western music.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mark J. Zanter on October 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great resource--all of Babbitt's essays in a single source. Includes early writings published before the seminal works on serialism. Must have.
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The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt
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