Classical Music

Milton Babbitt, Music for Treble Voice and Piano


When you live through a period of music history, which of course we all do, it is not always clear how things will shake out when the years pass and it is the futurel. Like some fellow oldsters I bore witness as a listening self to some of the peaks of High Modernism and now get the chance to go back again to it in retrospect. For that I am happy to report in on an album that helps us further gauge and indeed affirm the stature of a leading light of US High Modern musical art.

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) when I was coming up was mostly known as a brilliant pioneer of Electronic and Computer music in the USA, primarily via his long association with the Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Studio and the iconic RCA Synthesizer. Perhaps only in later times do we truly value his brilliance as a Serialist and instrumental composer of equal stature.

And accordingly on today’s recent release we get a lot of exhilaratingly advanced Babbitt music, well performed. I allude to the CD Music for Treble Voice and Piano (New Focus Records FCR 369), with soprano Nina Berman and pianist Steve Beck plus Eric Huebner on the two-piano works.

The CD covers a broad swatch of time from 1951 to 2002. Each composition is a little gem, with voice and piano parts diverging widely in terms of space and time, Vocals tend at times to utilize longer held notes while the piano(s) is a spicy clamor of brilliance, with the bifurcated  soprano-piano sounding making for an enormously complex array in space. If you recall the many fine works Webern put across to us for voice and instruments, this Babbitt seems like a fine rejoinder and an artistic triumph in his own right,

It is hard to imagine better performances than these, though given the hugely detailed music scape it is easy to imagine equally interesting but somewhat different readings.

Anyone wanting to grasp the very high points of the Serialist US school should hear this and no doubt check out some choice Elliot Carter as well, like the String Quartets. This album today scores high for Serialist excellence in the later period. Do not miss it! Bravo!

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