Close Reading of Milton Babbitt’s Who Cares if You Listen? ”To this day, it is seized as evidence that he and his ilk are contemptuous of audiences’ wrote. Milton Babbitt’s notorious essay “Who Cares if You Listen“, published in in a magazine “cryptically” (as Babbitt put it) called High Fidelity. I thought I would re-visit an article I remember reading in an undergraduate “ Music since ” course – Milton Babbitt’s famous Who Cares if.

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As Adorno looked to the extremes to find truth in its most useful form for argument, the beginning of this examination of the divide between modern classical music and, essentially, everything else, will begin with its starkest opposition. At the end of the fourth paragraph when he is setting these priorities up Babbitt makes it clear that he is not providing an example however as readers, we are entitled to provide our own; the insult comes as Babbitt suggests that if the reader cannot think of an example, which ‘is a very real possibility’ we can be ‘assured that such music does exist’.

Not to confuse the issue, but such truly random music does exist in 20th century classical music as part of a later and highly separate form of avant-garde. University of California Press, Mausoleum July 24, Faber and Faber, Beyond this, while an orchestra may perform the work of any individual living composer once per season usually lessa composer performing his own works can guarantee a performance every night.

Imagine, if you can, a layman chancing upon a lecture on “Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms. What are composers doing with their music if not trying to elicit some emotion from the listener? With these contradictory forces in mind, it makes sense that the extremism expressed in the intensely intellectual music and writings of Milton Babbitt would fall right in the center of arguments over the merits of mass culture.

Music they do not like is “not music,” composers whose music they do not like are “not composers In search of what to think and how to say it, the layman may turn to newspapers and magazines. Healing the Rift London: Compositions so rooted necessarily ask comparable knowledge and experience from the listener.

It is as if these authors have shown the value of a little known artifact yku a forgotten wing of a museum and dodged the larger issue: And so, I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. Silent Hill Shattered Memories: As such, it cannot be said that attention from and marketing by a major label is lisetn necessary condition for commercial musical success- or musical success in the public eye- regardless of the type of music.


It is music of which the general public is largely unaware, and in which it takes no interest. The Lies We Tell December 26, With a little practice, a composer can create a CD of his own music in little time.

How can it be saved, or resurrected from the state of living death it inhabits? Any record producer or promoter — or successful popular musician — will tell you that you have to tour i.

Who Cares if They Listen: Milton Babbitt’s Legacy

The listeners, it turns out, have mixed feelings. This also reduces the cost of tickets, making the music available to a wider audience demographic. A Conversational Review August 7, In essence, he is stating that no one without advanced training and experience can understand or comprehend contemporary classical music.

March 19th, by Guest Contributor. A casual listener with a forgivable, of course skepticism of carfs classical music—or perhaps a disinterest in or disapproval of modern art in general—would hear this kind of music as essentially random notes without any discernible melodic or harmonic structure.

Who Cares if They Listen: Milton Babbitt’s Legacy – ENTROPY

You may also like. There are many bands whose music relies on the complexity and dissonance that Berg and others accuse the listener of failing to appreciate, many of which have large fan-bases consisting mainly of people without advanced musical litsen, or at least without an extensive formal knowledge of music. Charles Rosen and Julian Lloyd Webber, and numerous other commentators on the subject, complain of the prevalence of commercial image in attracting an audience to a work or performance, be it the nearly-nude female violinist on an carees cover or the clearly intentionally flying hair of Lang Lang.

One notably successful approach is for composers to perform their own works. H39 2 Babbitt, M. Lisren, if it be contended that research, even in its least “practical” phases, contributes to the sum of knowledge in the particular realm, what possibly can contribute more to our knowledge of music than a genuinely original composition?

They can write music in any style they please, be it modern, neo-romantic, minimalist, or otherwise. Certainly he is not responsible for the circumstance that musical discourse is a never-never land of semantic confusion, losten last resting place of all those verbal and formal fallacies, those hoary dualisms that have been banished from rational discourse Perhaps he has read, in a widely consulted and respected book on the history of music, the following: But many composers it imagine a divide between themselves and those listeners.


Babbitt will go to cars grave famous for, among other things, a piece of prose whose published title—Who Cares If You Listen? Richard Taruskin points out on numerous occasions that this view- that much of contemporary classical music is beyond the perceptual abilities of the lay-listener- is largely the result of academic snobbery and ignorance.

At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists. Whether the article’s contents were reflected in the title is a matter of controversy. Among them was the idea that music had reached an advanced level on par with other fields, like theoretical physics, in which only an elite academic class could understand and contribute to its latest developments.

In his book Music: Acres fact, tone music is based on an extremely complex and rigorous organization of musical pitches. Composers should instead realize their progressive musical ideas in economically and practically viable formats. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: Continuum,57 — Even the previously discussed concert-going experience plays into this, as the image of a more enjoyable venue is more likely to attract listeners, who can then have a genuine, aural experience.

If the concertgoer is at all versed in wo ways of musical lifesmanship, he also will offer reasons for his “I didn’t like it” – in the form of whp that the work in question is “inexpressive,” “undramatic,” “lacking in whl etc. In my relatively recent goal of getting to know and better understand the music of the composers we promote at the CMC, I have found myself becoming a much more open listener. Indeed, the process has begun; and if it appears to proceed too slowly, I take consolation in the knowledge that in this respect, too, music seems to be in historically retarded parallel with now sacrosanct fields of endeavor.

Enter the email address you signed up with and we’ll email you a reset link. Or, perhaps, in search of “real” authority, he has acquired his critical vocabulary from the carex of officially “eminent” composers, whose eminence, in turn, is founded largely upon just such assertions as the concertgoer has learned to regurgitate.

Who Cares if You Listen

It gets even creepier if you have read about Philomelathe story upon which this work was based. Gayle Young Part 1. He also points out the successes within art circles of certain late-modernist composers: