BABBITT, MILTON (1916– ), U.S. composer and theorist. Born in Philadelphia, Babbitt started playing violin at the age of four and played in jazz performances and composed popular songs in high school. His father's involvement in mathematics stimulated Babbitt's interest in the subject. In 1931 he began studying mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, but soon he transferred to the study of music at New York University. In 1935 he was a student of Roger Sessions in composition at Princeton University and in 1938–42 became a staff member there. During World War II Babbitt was active
Together with Roger Sessions, Elliot Carter, and George Perle, Babbitt represents the stratum of the American avant-garde which was devoted to the rational methods in composition. He wrote the first formal and systematic research paper on Schoenberg's compositional method (1946). In his articles of the 1950s and 1960s Babbitt was a pioneer in his thinking on music, involving terms from mathematics, such as "source set," "secondary set," "derived set," "combinatoriality." In his innovative compositions of that time Babbitt sought to use and sometimes to combine Schoenberg's and Webern's technique of composition. From the 1970s and on the composer continued his intellectual search in 12-tone sound combinatoriality. During the 1960s and 1970s he also worked with the synthesizer, experimenting with electronic sounds.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.