The Old Order Changeth

If [Milton Babbitt] had not opted to be a teacher and a composer, he would have been a great big league manager.

—Joseph Polisi, The Artist as Citizen

R.I.P.—nah, scratch that, rest in cheerfully generous, irascible opinions and good beer. I am forever indebted to Babbitt for instilling in me an admirable mistrust of authority—having heard that all his music was thorny and difficult and incomprehensible, it was a kick to discover how much fun those anthologized Semi-Simple Variations and All Set and Phonemena* and My Ends Are My Beginnings were.

This thing I wrote about Babbitt is something I rather liked, which is always a dubious sign. But here’s something pithier: a lot of American history—and the history of the American relationship with American history—makes a lot more sense when you realize that Milton Babbitt was, actually, a quintessentially American composer.

*And Philomel, which I conflated with it in an earlier version of this post—Philomena would probably be a pretty fun piece, too.

Leave a Reply